Into the darkness of bad budget news at the University of Arizona, Cox Communications is shining a $100,000 bright light.
UA announced Tuesday that Cox has become the first member of the Arizona Assurance scholarship program’s Corporate Circle by donating $100,000.
“I think it’s a great program and given what is going on with the state budget and cuts at the university level, we feel good we can invest in something that is good for our state and good for our companies,” said Lisa Lovallo, Cox Communications vice president and system manager for southern Arizona.
Launched last fall by UA President Robert N. Shelton, Arizona Assurance covers all college costs for in-state students from families with an adjusted gross income of $42,400 or less per year.
Funding for this year’s inaugural class of 600 Arizona Assurance scholars came from a mix of federal Pell grants and money normally earmarked by UA for merit-based aid. Edith Auslander, a former assistant to Shelton, was hired by the UA Foundation last fall to spearhead private fundraising for the program.
“We’ve had a variety of gifts, but nothing this large,” Auslander said. “We had one for $10,000 and one for $25,000 (but) this is our first Corporate Circle gift, which has a minimum of $100,000. Our hope is that other major businesses will participate in this way.”
The money goes into an endowment that is invested by the UA Foundation to develop a continuous income stream for the program, which funds scholars for four years as long as the students maintain a C grade point average.
Auslander said 45 percent of the scholars made better than a B average during the fall semester.
Auslander said she and Shelton’s wife, Adrian, have been talking with potential Arizona Assurance donors and “there is unanimous support for the program” but the economic downturn has made donors cautious.
“There is complete support that this is an important program that will positively affect the state,” Auslander said.
“Source code for telecom is written by mathematicians,” Lovallo said. “We need to have folks who can do that type of technology and they’ll get that at a university. While it’s the right thing to do to give these kids a chance at a university education, it is also just business: We need people who can do that code.”
Lovallo said Auslander approached her about a company donation late last year. Lovallo is a 1987 UA alumna who served as director of student affairs and advancement for the university before joining Cox almost a year ago.
“When the state economy is what it is, there are going to be things that bubble over and private businesses are going to have to decide if they value those things or not and offer funding,” Lovallo said. “It is important for the state and for business.”
Arizona Assurance scholars are paired with faculty mentors during their time at UA in an effort to increase student retention. They also have internship opportunities at companies such as Cox and are expected to contribute $2,400 annually to their schooling through work-study programs or employment off campus.
Where does the money come from?
Each Arizona Assurance Scholar is granted about $14,300 annually, as long as he or she maintains at least a C average. That funding comes from a variety of sources:
Federal Pell Grant: $4,731
UA scholarships and grants: $3,200
Employment (work-study program or off-campus): $2,400
UA Foundation financial aid endowment: $4,023
Facts about finances:
• Students who receive education grants are 50 percent more likely to graduate than students with loans.
• Arizona is among the states providing the lowest level of financial commitment to student financial aid at $4.4 million last year. Florida, by comparison, contributes $83 million annually.
• From 2001 to 2010, two million academically qualified students nationally will not go to college because they cannot afford it.
• More than two-thirds of Fortune 100 companies support college readiness and access programs.
Source: UA Foundation, Arizona Assurance program