As the financial crisis begins to hit home for Miami University students and more rely on financial aid, there are a select few Miami students who know that their tuition is taken care of.
For students in the Miami Access Initiative program, Miami has promised a four-year full scholarship to the Oxford campus.
The program is in its sophomore year, currently supporting 351 students. Students who qualify for the scholarships must be first-time Oxford students from Ohio with a family income less than $35,000.
Students must first be accepted into Miami on their own merit, but are then awarded the scholarship, according to Laurie Koehler, director of admissions.
“The program is designed to increase access for some Ohio residents (to Miami),” said Koehler. “The recipients are outstanding Ohio students with families with lower income. It’s trying to increase access for students who may not have access to Miami or be able to afford it, but who are accepted into the school.”
Many students accepted into the program are first-generation college students who have a lower-income family history.
“The majority of our first-year (Access Initiative) students are first-generation college students-60 to 70 percent,” said Carla Carick, a senior administrator in student affairs. “They kind of have double whammy of disadvantage. We’re looking at low-income and first generation. They don’t necessarily have access to the same resources.”
Students are given a faculty mentor and an on-campus job, according to Carick.
“We want to support them while they are here,” Carick said. “One way we do that is the faculty mentor program. Each student who enters as an (Access Initiative) scholar works with a faculty mentor. Mentors work with up to five students, ranging from social activities to helping students navigate the university.”
Mentors work with first-year or transfer students on a variety of issues, from academic to financial. There are about 30 faculty members taking part in the mentoring program, including journalism professor Joe Sampson.
“The idea is to give them a support system and resources,” Sampson said. “We go to lunch or a lecture series. It’s about informal help. It’s a terrific program.”
Carick credits the success of students and the program in part to the mentoring program.
“The mentor program is not the only component (of Access Initiative) but an important component,” Carick said. “Those students who work most closely with their mentors tend to have a much richer experience.”
Emma Brown, a sophomore in the program, believes that it has been a positive experience, but has had certain challenges.
“I think sometimes … with Miami being so well-known for having upper-income students, sometimes you feel a little out of place and that no one can understand where you are coming from,” Brown said. “You really have self-esteem issues. You have difficulty explaining to other students, certain things like why you can’t necessarily go uptown.”
For all the challenges however, Brown says the program has been a good experience.
“It’s pretty much I wouldn’t be in college if it weren’t for this program,” she said. “It made things so much easier for me overall. The people surrounding it have made Miami so much better for me.”
The money for the program was donated by a deceased alumna, Lois Klawon. In her will, Klawon allocated more than $10 million to help improve student access to Miami.
In the long run, according to Chuck Knepfle, assistant provost and director of student financial assistance, interest earned on the principle nearly ensures the fund will not run out.
“The (donation) is like a savings account,” Knepfle said. “You get a percentage back in interest, so we only spend the interest. The plan is that it will continue to always generate interest. The investment will stay out there and we will only spend what it earns.”
Overall, Knepfle said the retention rate has been generally steady during the past year, although it has been hard to track the students.
“It is hard for us to check who left because they (have) graduated or (have) left the program,” he said. “There may be someone who is no longer considered a Miami Access Initiative student any longer because their financial situation changed and their family income increased.”
Carick said so far, the program has been a success.
“The goal of the program is to increase access for students who are able to study at Miami, so absolutely the goals are being met,” Carick said.