Thursday, February 2, 2017

Bicentennial Scholars Fund Affirms UVA Commitment to Need-based Financial Aid

The recent announcement of the establishment of a permanent endowment that supports student scholarships at UVA has caused a ripple of excitement through the Student Financial Services (SFS) team at UVAFinance. 

The endowment, called the Bicentennial Scholars Fund, is a combination of philanthropic contributions and matching donations from the University’s Strategic Investment Fund (SIF). 

According to Scott Miller, Director of Student Financial Aid, the endowment is a strong affirmation of AccessUVA, the University’s commitment to making education at UVA accessible.

“If a student is admitted to UVA, and they have need, then we’re going to meet that need 100%,” says Miller. 

The endowment also represents a "tremendous amount of cooperation between Melody Bianchetto and UVAFinance and the office of University Advancement," says Mark Luellen, Vice President for Advancement.

Luellen says developing the initiative took a lot of work from many parties to “provide a way for donors to engage with the University’s number one priority, students.”

“The matching donations from the SIF mean we’re putting some skin in the game,” says Luellen, adding that SFS’s partnership in stewardship is vital.

In the flurry of activity that greets each new semester, Miller says he has enjoyed seeing scholarship agreements coming through for students.  He points out that while the Bicentennial Scholars Fund doesn’t necessarily change what the students see on their end of the transaction, it does change where the funds come from, and he tries to help students understand what it means when their scholarship comes from an endowed source.

“I try to point out to students that part of your scholarship is funded by an endowed source, and that usually means someone who wants to pay it forward and give back to their alma mater,” he says.

Miller says that students respond positively to this idea, and he hopes it plants a seed in their minds for their own future giving. 

The new endowment means the SFS team will be processing an increasing number of smaller gifts, and partnering with the Office of Advancement to follow the intent of donors, report back on recipients, and assist with student thank you cards, so that both donors and students experience a personal touch.

The cooperation with Advancement is just one example of how SFS works with other UVA departments and units to make sure students receive needed financial support.  The tight-knit relationships SFS has developed with areas such as housing and student affairs means that there’s a network watching out for students, who will refer students to SFS when unusual situations occur that might require tapping emergency funds.

Beyond walking students through the financial aid process, Miller says he and the SFS staff have also learned what to watch for with students, and what questions to ask, to make sure they’re well. 

“We actively look for ways to help,” says Miller.  

He says he’s run into a few instances of students without a home, and students who bounce between events on Grounds for the free food. 

“It’s not just about the bill,” he says.  “There are needs outside the bill, and we have to encourage the student to be up front about those needs.  That’s when we can figure out ways to help them out.”

Miller says he and the SFS team are heartened to have a strong collection of resources from which to draw in order to help students, and they are pleased, with the establishment of the Bicentennial Scholars Fund, to see continued strong commitment from UVA to providing need-based aid.

“We have great resources,” he says, “and a great school, and great students.  We’re glad to play a role in matching all of those up.”

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