Increasing support for students key to U’s success

Scholarships allow the University to prepare qualified young people from all economic backgrounds.

Scholarships are the University of Minnesota’s top fundraising priority. We want to do everything possible to ensure that financial barriers don’t come between good students and a chance to study at the University. Our Promise of Tomorrow scholarship drive is the most comprehensive initiative to increase scholarships in the University’s history.

Already we’re helping 1,043 more students than we did two years ago, when the initiative began. On average, each scholarship award is 28 percent greater than before the campaign started.

It’s only the beginning. October is Scholarship Month at the University – a time to redouble our efforts to help qualified students. This month you’ll see newspaper ads, billboards and radio and television segments spotlighting the ongoing success of our scholarship drive and encouraging more donations.

The University’s alumni and friends are listening: More than 31,000 people have already made gifts as part of the scholarship drive, and the $91 million that they’ve donated has brought us past the halfway mark on our journey to raise $150 million. I’m profoundly grateful for that generosity. The reasons behind this drive are clear to every student and family struggling to keep up with the rising cost of higher education. A student of a generation ago was able to pay the full cost of an education at the University by working 24 hours a week at a minimum wage job. Today, that student would have to work the same minimum wage job more than 60 hours a week. Scholarships allow students to focus more time and energy on their studies.

When the scholarship drive began, I said I wanted to ensure that every student with the desire and ability to succeed at the University has the opportunity to do so. The establishment of the Founders Opportunity Scholarship is helping hundreds of our most financially challenged students succeed by filling the gap between what they receive in state and federal financial aid and the tuition cost.

Scholarships allow the University to prepare qualified young people from all economic backgrounds to pursue careers that benefit all parts of our society. We are continuing to build on efforts to improve the undergraduate experience that began more than a decade ago. Among those improvements are new residential and classroom facilities, a revitalized student union, freshman seminars, and improved class registration and financial aid services.

Today, we’re investing more in a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs. In the 2005-06 school year, we’re allocating nearly $13.5 million in new money – about $7.6 million for undergraduate support and $5.9 million for graduate and professional education support. These investments include increased funding for freshman seminars, learning abroad scholarships and DOVE fellowships that are targeted at under-represented groups to promote a diversity of views and experiences on campus.

Investments like these are central to our drive to become one of the top three research universities in the world within a decade, an aspiration that entails recruiting, educating and graduating outstanding students. On the recruiting side, we want to become the first choice for more of Minnesota’s best high school graduates, rather than having them leave the state. Within our realignment process, I’ve asked that we look closely at how we can continue to improve student success – particularly graduation rates – and how we can measure and improve student learning at the University. The class of 2009 is the best prepared we’ve ever seen. Nearly three-fourths of these freshmen were in the top 25 percent of their class, nearly one-fifth were in the top 5 percent and the percentage of students of color on the Twin Cities campus increased. We’re enrolling more National Merit Scholars, and average ACT scores are up substantially, and more of these students are receiving scholarship support to help defray the cost of attending the University.

There’s a lot more to do. In the 2002-03 academic year, just under 5,000 students received scholarships or graduate fellowships. Our goal is to boost that by 50 percent, and to ensure that each of these students receive more financial support.

Transforming the University into one of the three best in the world is a heady goal and has huge benefits for our students, who will benefit through improved student services and educational practices. Join me in sharing the University’s good story with our alumni, donors and other stakeholders so we can meet our scholarship goals and make this world-class education available to students from all backgrounds.

Bob Bruininks is the president of the University of Minnesota. Please send comments to [email protected]