UGA surpasses 500 needs-based scholarship mark, raising $77 million

The arch at the University of Georgia’s North Campus.

The arch at the University of Georgia’s North Campus.

The University of Georgia announced Monday it has achieved what it described as a major milestone: a program started in 2017 to provide help to low-income students has now awarded scholarships to more than 500 students.

More than 320 donors have committed money to the effort, the Georgia Commitment Scholarship, raising an estimated $77 million, university officials said. The scholarship was started with a $30 million gift from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation.

The scholarships range from $3,500 to $7,000 per year for four years, UGA officials said. Undergraduate tuition, housing and mandatory fees for UGA students this school year is about $19,000. Officials said the scholarships often help pay for housing and books.

UGA officials credit the scholarship program for helping with its 98% retention rate of first-year students returning for their second year. Finances are often a reason why many students cannot continue their education, research shows.

“This achievement is a testament to the desire of so many individuals, families and organizations to make a positive difference in the lives of our students,” the university’s president, Jere Morehead, said in a statement. “I am deeply grateful for their incredible generosity and their commitment to our great university.”

The state of Georgia has been criticized by education policy experts and others in recent years for not having a robust program to help low-income students pay for college.

One-third of undergraduate UGA students borrow money to pay for school, state data shows. The average annual loan amount is nearly $6,000. Bachelor’s degree recipients last year left UGA with an average debt of $23,573, University System of Georgia data shows.

The University of Georgia, the state’s flagship school, has nearly 39,000 students this fall, which is the second-largest enrollment in Georgia.