KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Access to college education is more critical now than it has ever been. Unfortunately, too many talented students have found their pathway strewn with barriers or even blocked. Western Michigan University is working to break down systemic barriers to success with unprecedented scholarship and support opportunities.
The University today announced the first initiatives made possible by the historic Empowering Futures Gift—a $550 million contribution to the WMU Foundation over 10 years—which will provide not only tuition-free education but also low-cost housing, a new innovative Living Learning Community, internship stipends to foster career development and graduation scholarships for 1,350 incoming and current Broncos during the first year alone.
"In this rapidly changing world, a college education is more important than ever. But the cost of that education has shifted from the public to the student, putting it increasingly out of reach for too many. Western Michigan University is closing that gap by taking a holistic view of student success," says WMU President Edward Montgomery.
"The University is building an ecosystem of financial aid and programmatic support designed to meet students where they are and support them in their ambitions."
The first step toward upward mobility is getting a seat at the table. The new Bronco Promise will provide a tuition-free Western education for up to five years for first-year students who come from Michigan families earning an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $50,000 or less who have net assets under $50,000.
"Western is committed to opening the doors to higher education for all students who have the talent and determination to succeed," Montgomery says.
The University anticipates awarding these scholarships to 340 students in the 2022-23 academic year and a projected 600 students each year after.
The Bronco Promise is an excellent example of how the Empowering Futures Gift is extending the capacity of the University to graduate students in a changing world. It expands upon federal Pell support to cover the cost of tuition. In students’ first two years, the first $1,200 of the Bronco Promise support will be funded by the gift. The balance for the entirety of the five-year scholarships will be funded by institutional aid dollars.
Tuition isn’t the only obstacle to college entry and completion. Even with very low or no tuition costs, living expenses can also keep a student from embarking on a college degree. In addition, studies show students who live on campus perform better academically and have higher retention rates than their off-campus peers, but not every student or family can afford the cost that comes with it. The Empowering Futures Gift will provide up to $6,000 in housing and dining scholarships to 110 incoming students for their first year and offer holistic support through the Bronco experience in the form of a new Living Learning Community.
While these communities located inside on-campus residences are popular and successful, they are often built around a major. Statistics show, however, that college students change majors three times on average. The University’s newest Living Learning Community option will be responsive to students who are still exploring upon arrival or who may wish to build community around a cause, such as social justice, or a competency, like leadership. The new community will give students the chance to discover their interests while they explore careers, get involved in campus life and hone their study skills. Students will be encouraged to embrace the full campus experience—inside and outside the classroom—as they build an exciting and inspiring future.
Students who attend Kalamazoo Public Schools or have a Detroit or Grand Rapids address will get preference for the need-based scholarships, but all Michigan residents are eligible to apply. Applications are due Feb. 15, 2022, and decisions will be released in March.
On-the-job experience is crucial for Broncos to explore careers and make the connections that could lead to their first job. But that experience doesn't always come with enough financial compensation to cover students’ living expenses and other financial responsibilities.
The Empowering Futures Gift will provide financial support for internships at private and nonprofit organizations, subsidizing up to $3,600 in wages for up to 100 students each year with competitive, need-based stipends. The gift will also support additional staffing for the program to build connectivity between leading employers and students and to ensure high-quality experiences.
Students who succeed in the classroom sometimes run into unexpected obstacles that threaten to derail their college journey; an accident, job loss, medical bills—they can all become financial barriers to finishing a degree as they approach commencement.
The Empowering Futures Gift will support 800 upper-level students each year with a need-based award up to $1,000 that can be applied to tuition and fees. It will double the number of graduation scholarships currently offered at Western.
"The University remains fully aware that a holistic approach requires financial assistance and more. There is no one-size-fits-all solution," Montgomery says. "Students need support. They need guidance. They need the University to join them on their journey. And Western is committed to rising to that challenge."
Western expects to announce innovative new programmatic support in early 2022 that will act in tandem with these new financial aid opportunities to help all Broncos thrive on the path to a degree and a meaningful career.
ABOUT THE EMPOWERING FUTURES GIFT
In June 2021, visionary Western Michigan University graduates donated to the WMU Foundation $550 million, the largest gift for a public institution of higher education in U.S. history.
Forward thinking in design, scope and size, this historic philanthropic contribution is known as the Empowering Futures Gift. The donors, alumni who have chosen not to be named, committed $200 million for WMU, $300 million for the WMU Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine and $50 million for Bronco Athletics. The gift is designed to fund scholarships, advance medical education and research, support faculty expertise, increase athletic competitiveness and make possible numerous student-centered initiatives.
Student-centered, transformational and responsive to the needs of students today, the $200 million committed to WMU will be focused on four key areas:
Educational access and retention: A significant expansion of need-based financial assistance with tuition, room and board, and degree-completion support
Purpose and passion: Paid experiential learning for students who rely on jobs to fund their education, as well as new support staff to guide students in their pursuit of a meaningful career
Well-being: New professional and technical support to improve mental health and help students develop healthy lifestyles
Transformational excellence: Hiring new faculty to enhance the diversity of the faculty and advance interdisciplinary education and research
For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.