CHICAGO — In order to improve diversity on its three campuses, the University of Illinois plans to increase the amount of scholarship money available for "underrepresented" students as well as the qualifications for those applying for such awards.
The President's Award Program, which dates back to 1985, was launched by former then-President Stanley Ikenberry with the goal of recruiting, retaining and graduating underrepresented students from Illinois. Initially for minorities, the program was expanded over the years to include students living at or below the federal poverty level or those coming from counties in southern Illinois that send few students to the UI.
It was time the university updated the program in order to increase student quality, increase the number of students who decide to enroll after being offered admission to the university, and increase retention and graduation rates, said Christophe Pierre, the UI's vice president for academic affairs.
Beginning with students entering the UI in fall 2012, those who qualify for the scholarship can receive more money. Students can receive a $5,000 annual merit-based award, up from the $1,000 to $3,000 previously available to students. The UI also plans to launch a pilot program as part of the Presidents' Award Program that specifically targets high-achieving underrepresented students. The 200 students accepted into the pilot program this fall will receive $10,000 per year. The target qualifications for the honors program include an ACT score of at least 27 and ranking in the top 25 percent of the high school class. Pierre described the set of qualifications as targets; they're not set in stone, he said.
The new target qualifications for the regular program include ACT scores of 25 and being in the top 40 percent of their class, up from the previous target qualifications of an ACT score of 24 and being in the top half of their high school class.
Students also will now be required to maintain a minimum grade-point average to continue to receive the aid, Pierre said.
"It's important they be mentored and monitored. We can't give them financial aid and go away," he said.
The UI also will open the program this year to a limited number of transfer students.
The total cost of the program is $17.375 million, with funding coming from the office of UI President Michael Hogan and the three campuses. The money, from state appropriations, has been reallocated from other areas of the university, according to Pierre.
"We're going to make some headway," into convincing high-achieving, underrepresented students to enroll, said Richard Wheeler, the Urbana campus provost.
"I think the $10,000 package (for honors) and $5,000 for regular PAP students really is a significant difference from what we've had in the past, and I hope it shows in the numbers we see this fall," he said.
In recent years, the number of applications to the Urbana campus has increased, but the number of students who enroll has decreased, he said.
The reason these students go elsewhere is because of better financial aid packages, Hogan said.
"A big driver behind this revision was to increase the amount of financial aid we're investing, particularly in high-end students," Hogan said. "These are the best minority students in Illinois and they're leaving (the state) because their financial aid packages are stronger," he said.
As of 2011, 67 percent of the 4,000 President Award Program freshmen recipients were enrolled on the Urbana campus, while 32 percent were at Chicago and 1 percent on the Springfield campus. Fifty-four percent were Hispanic, 25 percent were black, 8 percent were white, 8 percent were Asian-Pacific Islander, 3 percent were multiracial and less than 1 percent were American Indian.