This year, the University of California, Santa Barbara has established a new kind of financial aid program, one that hasn’t been seen so far in the University of California system. The Promise Scholars program, with its first admissions having just come in this year, gives a four-year promise of financial aid to exceptional high school students provided they maintain a minimum 2.75 GPA, breaking the tradition of offering financial aid on a year-by-year basis.
Michael Miller, director of the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships and one of the people who made the program a reality, feels that this four-year guarantee can be very beneficial to the students and their families when it comes to mapping out the years ahead of them. “The biggest financial aid benefit is the four-year promise,” Miller said. “It allows families to plan and budget rather than just going year by year.”
The Promise Scholars program offers recipients more than just financial aid. The students are expected to become active participants in UCSB’s research projects in a mutually beneficial relationship. The courses that the Promise Scholars take are designed to ensure that they both find their subject of interest and are prepared to take on the duties of a research assistant by the time they begin their second year at UCSB.
In addition, the Promise Scholars take part in events outside the classroom designed to facilitate closer relationships with faculty members. For example, on Nov. 10, a group of five to eight Promise Scholars will have dinner with various professors at Carrillo Dining Commons, partaking in intellectual discussion. Miller sees experiences such as this as invaluable.
“A big part of the Promise Scholar program is getting students involved and making sure they know what resources are available to them,” Miller said. “Building relationships with faculty at UCSB is a great way for students to learn more about the incredible options our campus has to offer. It also helps build a solid support system. We are trying to build a culture with this program and interacting with faculty is a big part of that effort.”
Though not yet implemented, in coming years Promise Scholars are expected to live within the same residence hall during their first year. According to Miller, the idea is that the students will form an informal network where they can rely on each other through all the difficulties of university life. “A University of California campus can be a big place for a lot of students,” he said. “By establishing a small cohort of students, we are hoping these students can make connections early, and if they do encounter a bump in the road, they have a place to turn.”
Exactly 125 first-year students were admitted via the Promise Scholars program this year, but Miller expects this number to increase and hopes that the program will serve as a model for financial aid in other UC campuses. “This was the first year and we are treating it like a pilot year,” he said. “I can definitely see this changing the landscape of financial aid at the University of California, but we want to be thoughtful about growing the program, so I suspect we’ll try to keep the numbers at the 125 level for the next year or two.”