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UCLA Foundation steps in with $5 million for students struggling amid the pandemic

The towers of Royce Hall rise against a blue sky, with trees in the foreground.
The UCLA Foundation has announced a $5-million gift for scholarships, COVID-19 emergency support, mental health services and other student needs.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold across the Southland, economic hardship hit UCLA senior Jelani Mora and his family like so many others.

His mother — the family’s main breadwinner, who with her job as a data entry clerk had supported herself, Mora and his grandmother — was laid off in March and still hasn’t found work. The family is struggling to make ends meet with unemployment insurance and Mora’s part-time income as a mentor for underserved high school students.

But another source of income, he said, has made a big difference: a UCLA scholarship.

Mora, who is majoring in political science, said the $20,000 Chancellor’s Blue and Gold Scholarship had helped him continue his studies without interruption and even left some money to help support his family during this difficult time.

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“I’m incredibly thankful,” he said, “because the scholarship has really come in handy to pay for my books, my food and help out my family during the pandemic.”

UCLA is poised to help many more students like Mora. The UCLA Foundation has announced a new $5-million gift for scholarships, the campus COVID-19 emergency relief fund, mental health services, leadership training, basic needs support and student government programs. The foundation, which manages a $5.7-billion endowment, also provided the campus with an additional $129 million for general campus needs for this academic year after increasing its quarterly payout of endowed funds from 4.25% to 5%.

“It’s a big message to students that the people who donate to the university care deeply about the problems and challenges they have,” said foundation Chair Craig Ehrlich. “Rather than save the funds for a rainy day, that rainy day is today.”

The gift will provide $1 million to the Chancellor’s Blue and Gold Scholarship Fund, which supports UCLA students from underserved public high schools and community colleges in L.A. County. Currently, the fund spends more than $1 million annually on scholarships, supporting about 350 students, who each receive up to $5,000 each year.

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Villy Basuki said she would not have been able to attend UCLA without that scholarship. A native of Indonesia, Basuki transferred to UCLA in 2018 from Pierce College but, while going to school full-time, also worked full-time as a nursing assistant to support her son and mother. The stress caused her to momentarily falter in her studies, but the sociology major was able to graduate earlier this spring and is now pursuing a master’s degree in healthcare management at Cal State L.A.

“It was really tough, but the scholarship helped me make ends meet,” Basuki said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well and make sure the people who gave me this opportunity would not be disappointed.”

Another $1 million will go to the UCLA Black Alumni Assn. for scholarships to help the Westwood campus expand efforts to recruit top Black students. The gift will allow the alumni association to increase the number of Winston C. Doby Legacy Scholarships — which provide $10,000 annually for up to four years — from about 25 to as many as 50, said association board Chair Robert Grace. Since 2007, the scholarship fund has distributed more than $3.4 million to over 700 Black students.

Grace said the additional funding came at a key time in the admissions cycle and would help UCLA in its efforts to recruit Black students considering admissions offers from other top universities with generous financial aid packages.

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“We’re in the conversation,” Grace said, “but when it comes to money, we’re very likely to lose those students to other schools.”

Kyle Golden, a junior in physiological science, said his Doby Legacy Scholarship had allowed him to fully plunge into his challenging pre-med coursework and volunteer at hospitals without having to work or take out loans. So far, he’s been able to ace notoriously difficult classes in organic chemistry and biochemistry and maintain a 3.65 GPA.

The foundation gift also will provide $1 million to UCLA’s COVID Emergency Fund; $900,000 for mental health, leadership training and basic needs; and $160,000 for student government programs and internships; with $940,000 still to be allocated.

Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, vice provost for enrollment management, said the campus began getting a flood of calls after the pandemic hit from students reporting growing financial distress. UCLA responded with some emergency aid and a technology fund to provide needy students with laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots, but she said the foundation gift would allow the campus to ramp up support even more.

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“We hear about families having challenges trying to pay rent or family expenses, but what we don’t hear about are the ways in which students feel obligated to take on additional debt or work to supplement their family’s needs,” she said. “This new gift from the UCLA Foundation is tremendous in helping us to respond to those students and help lift some of that financial burden.”


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