UC Merced Awards $28M in Gift Aid for 2009-10

Financial concerns prevent many of our state's top-performing students from attending college, but the University of California, Merced, is doing its best to ease that burden. To that end, the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarshipsannounced today (Sept. 22) that 2,230 undergraduate students have received a total of $28,216,197 in grants and scholarships. These awards represent money that does not need to be repaid.

"In response to the current economic situation, UC Merced continues to make attending college affordable to eligible students," said Kevin Browne, assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management. "Concern over expenses is the worst possible reason not to attend a UC. If a student meets UC admission requirements, he or she deserves to be here, and we can help. We have been able to offer competitive gift-aid packages to almost 75 percent of our enrolled students."

Gift aid comes from both public and private entities. It can be used to pay a variety of school-related expenses, depending on the requirements set forth by the agency offering the scholarship or grant.

The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Programoffers competitive awards for students who wish to study abroad. Five UC Merced students were the first in school history to receive the prestigious awards. The five students — who are going to Egypt, South Korea, Spain and Turkey — received a total of $19,000 to help them cover the costs of spending a semester or year in a foreign country.

There are also a variety of qualification factors that determine which students get which awards. Though many scholarships and grants are need-based, that's not true for all.

Regents Scholarships, the University of California's most prestigious scholarship award, are given to students with outstanding academic records and personal achievements. The scholarships are awarded to entering freshmen or transfers and are renewable for up to four years. Regents Scholars at UC Merced receive preferential housing on campus and a gift-aid package of up to $25,000 per year as long as they maintain their academic success. Only a small number of Regents Scholars are selected annually at each UC campus.

For Ronald Magpantay of Norwalk and Christa Caneda of Sacramento, that means the world.

"I have a sister attending UC Santa Cruz, and my parents have lost their jobs because of the economy," said Caneda, an 18-year-old freshman microbiology major. "Before I received the Regents Scholarship, my mom sat me down to explain that I wouldn't be able to go to a UC. They just couldn't afford it. It's been a godsend for us."

Magpantay, a freshman considering a major within the School of Engineering, agrees. He was accepted to both UCLA and UC Irvine but couldn't pass up the financial benefits offered at UC Merced.

"My older brother and sister are still in college; I didn't want my family to worry about how they were going to afford my tuition on top of theirs," he said. "It's lifted a huge burden from my shoulders to know that I can afford to be here this semester and in semesters to come."

However, the financial relief isn't the only reason Caneda and Magpantay are proud to be Regents Scholars; there's also the prestige that comes from being recognized as a top achiever.

"I come from a high school full of high achievers," said Caneda, who was also accepted at UC Davis, UCLA, UC Irvine and UC Santa Cruz. "Even with a 4.4 grade-point average, I didn't make the top 10 in my graduating class. Having UC Merced recognize my academic effort has been a delight."

A large portion of the gift aid supplied to UC Merced students comes from private donations, said John Garamendi Jr., vice chancellor for University Relations. Since the campus opened, students have benefited greatly from the generosity of donorswho have financially supported the creation and growth of scholarships.

"UC Merced is very fortunate to have so many friends who value the educational experience we provide here and are willing to give our students the giftof education through their donations," he said.

The most recent, a $500,000 gift to the university's foundation earlier this summer, has been earmarked for undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships. Thanks to an anonymous benefactor, students interested in studying renewable energywill be eligible for a portion of this gift as early as spring 2010.

Garamendi says that scholarships from private donors are crucial to making sure UC Merced fulfills its mission of providing access to all academically eligible students.

"Giving to scholarships is the most selfless act any donor can perform," Garamendi said. "The fact that people who have worked hard over the years are willing to invest in the futures of students they have never met speaks volumes. Our students recognize that sacrifice, and I believe it makes them work harder in the classroom, and it shows them the importance of giving back when they leave."

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