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The Alumni Association of the University of Michigan is helping increase the diversity of the student population by investing an additional 30 million dollars into the LEAD Scholars Program, one of the University’s diversity scholarship programs.
In 1845, 11 graduates established the Society of the Alumni, which, throughout the years, has grown to become an organization with over 100,000 members around the world.
Steve Grafton, the current president of the Alumni Association, explained the importance of fostering diversity on campus as well as teaching students to engage with those different than them.
“Not only does a diverse student population help minority students feel more welcome on campus, it teaches all students the value of engaging with people of all creeds and cultures”, he said in a press release.
As of fall 2015, according to the Office of the Registrar, the University’s student body was mostly composed of white students, with the Black, Hispanic and Native American communities representing 4.1 percent, 4.6 percent and 0.2 percent of the total number of students, respectively. Due to low representation, the LEAD Scholars program seeks to attract and retain students from Black, Hispanic and Native American backgrounds.
Proposal 2 — otherwise known as the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative that was passed in 2006 — bans “the use of affirmative action programs that give preferential treatment” in higher education.
In April 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the state’s ban. In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy maintained the voter-enacted ban could not be overturned at the national level.
In early April 2017, as part of the University’s Bicentennial celebration, 950 maize and blue chairs were set up in the Diag to represent the underrepresented minority students who did not attend the University in the wake of this decision.
To be considered for the LEAD program, students also need to showcase academic promise — with a high school GPA of 3.5 or higher, and have a SAT score of 1220 or higher or ACT score of at least 27. Additionally, on average, LEAD scholars enter the University with a 3.8 GPA, and the historic graduation rate for those enrolled in the program is 97 percent.
Matthew Williams, a LEAD scholar and former treasurer of LEAD’s advisory board, discussed how the program has shaped his University experience for the better. He will continue his studies at the University as a student in the Law School, starting fall 2017.
“LEAD is a remarkable program that is so much more than a scholarship,” he said. “It is a mentorship, a family and a conduit to a University experience that many of us URM (underrepresented minority) students could hardly imagine. I can honestly say the Alumni Association has done more to shape my Michigan story for the better than any other group on campus and I will appreciate their support and generosity more than I think they will ever realize.”
All students accepted into the program are paired with an upperclassman mentor who provides guidance on how to grow both personally and professionally. Additionally, the LEAD advisory board holds social events throughout the year, connecting scholars to alumni and to one another.
In terms of future impact, the Alumni Association hopes to utilize the additional $30 million fund to award up to 75 LEAD scholars per year by 2021. Grants will range from $5,000 to $15,000 per student, with the amount depending on the student’s financial needs and potential for future academic achievement.
Kinesiology senior Rachel Sullivan told the Michigan Chronicle her LEAD scholarship has allowed her to graduate with zero debt, as well as choose a graduate program based on her passions.
“It feels like a huge blessing, and I’m graduating debt-free,” she said. “The scholarship allowed me to be more free to choose graduate programs without thinking of debt as much.”