UC Santa Barbara’s Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships administered for the first time this year the Promise Scholar Program, which recognizes incoming undergraduates who show potential in academic, research and student leadership positions and provides them a minimum of $120,000 in financial support.
The program allows students and their families to plan for all four years of tuition as opposed to traditional financial aid programs, which are on a year-by-year basis. Scholars are given a minimum of $120,000 to go towards tuition, room and board, loan fees, health and books. The program was created by Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Claudine Michel and Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships Director Michael Miller after they recognized a fundamental issue with the traditional financial aid program design.
Miller said a major obstacle families with financial need face is having to commit to paying for four years of education though traditional financial aid programs only provide funding one year at a time.
“I can’t think of any other major purchase that works that way,” Miller said in an email. “By providing students with a four-year outlook, they are able to focus on why they are here, which is to get a world class education and entrench themselves in the UCSB community.”
According to Miller, UCSB stands as number three on the Top Colleges Doing the Most for Low-Income Students list by The Upshot, which measures colleges’ efforts on economic diversity.
“We do a great deal for low income students at UCSB,” Miller said in an email. “Approximately 75% of undergraduates at UCSB have financial aid and we disburse about $400 million annually. For most families, a UCSB education would not be possible without some sort of financial aid.”
Miller said the new Promise Scholars program is offered to dedicated students from areas of California where it is less common for high school graduates to attend UCSB.
“We really were not sure how the program would be received so we made a modest number of offers and we focused on areas of the state we have not been able to recruit students to UCSB in the past,” Miller said in an email. “All of the students selected for the Promise Scholar program were highly meritorious and showed a great deal of potential.”
Academic Initiatives Associate Director Mark Shishim said he is confident that this group of Promise Scholars will positively impact the UCSB community in more ways than one.
“This is an extraordinary group of students – I’m confident their contributions to our University will be evident in scholarship, leadership and citizenship,” Shishim said in an email. “I’m honored to be a part of their journey and proud to welcome them to the Gaucho family.”
Miller said he has very high hopes for the program and wants to see the students involved on campus without worrying about finances.
“I would love to see our Promise Scholars become campus leaders, work closely with faculty, participate in research and give back to the UCSB community in some way,” Miller said in an email. “By eliminating the guessing game about whether they can afford to stay at UCSB, we are hoping to see positive results in all aspects of our students’ lives.”
Miller said the program could change the way financial aid is administered across the UC.
“I truly believe we are on to something with multiyear financial aid awards,” Miller said in an email. “If we remain thoughtful and continue to collaborate across our campus, I think this could revolutionize the way financial aid is administered at the University of California and beyond.”
Promise Scholar Advisor Natalie Gonzalez said the promise scholars benefit from various resources and opportunities to which other students do not have access.
“One of the things they are invited to is a faculty night, and that is just for them to be able to meet other faculty members on campus,” Gonzalez said. “In the Winter Quarter will be workshops on budgeting and how to renew financial aid applications, making sure that they are meeting those deadlines as well.”
Gonzalez said she wants to introduce Promise Scholars to research opportunities and other resources.
“We will have more information on how to get involved in undergraduate research, how to talk to faculty members, how to seek mentorship, and overall how to be exposed to the different resources that UCSB has to offer,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez also said she hopes the program will build a support system for the scholars that will increase retention.
“I hope they have peers that they can contact and connect with in order to have that home away from home support system with each other, but also with staff, faculty and other community members that are here to support them,” Gonzalez said.