University News

UNC-Chapel Hill announces scholarship initiative for North Carolina middle-income students

The Blue Sky Scholars program will launch with a $5 million gift from alumnus and UNC System President Emeritus Erskine Bowles. The University aims to raise an additional $15 million to grow the program.

Bell Tower on UNC-Chapel Hill campus.
The UNC Bell Tower on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill October 6, 2016. (Photo by Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will expand its commitment to access and affordability for North Carolina families with a new $20 million scholarship initiative to provide financial aid for middle-income undergraduate students from North Carolina. The Blue Sky Scholars program will launch with a $5 million gift from alumnus and UNC System President Emeritus Erskine Bowles. The University aims to raise an additional $15 million to grow the program.

Chancellor Carol L. Folt will introduce the Blue Sky Scholars program during the annual University Day ceremony later this morning, honoring the 225th anniversary of Carolina’s founding as the nation’s first public university. The new initiative is designed to fill an important gap by supporting exceptionally qualified North Carolina residents from middle-class backgrounds who qualify for financial aid but do not meet the requirements for the Carolina Covenant. The University launched the groundbreaking Carolina Covenant program in 2003 to guarantee students from low-income families could graduate debt-free.

“Today it is my pleasure to announce the Blue Sky Scholars program to help middle-class families facing the overwhelming burden of college debt. This distinctive program expands Carolina’s commitment to excellent, affordable higher education for the hardworking people in our state,” Folt said. “Thanks to a generous lead gift from Erskine Bowles, we will make the promise of a Carolina education possible for even more students and their families, regardless of their ability to pay.”

Middle-income students, classified as those whose household incomes average $75,000 per year, make up the majority of North Carolinians who receive need-based aid at Carolina. For every low-income student eligible for the Carolina Covenant, there are two middle-income students supported by other forms of institutionally funded aid. The average debt for the graduating class of 2017 was approximately $22,000, which is 22 percent less than the national average. The University estimates the Blue Sky Scholars will graduate with debt of $10,000 or less.

The admissions and student-aid offices will identify students for the new scholarships based on academic and extracurricular achievement and potential, demonstrated work ethic and sense of responsibility to family and community. As part of their finalized financial aid package, Blue Sky Scholars will receive:

  • an annual award of $7,500, renewable over four years;
  • $2,500 per year in work-study employment;
  • a one-time enrichment award of $2,500 to support internships, study
    abroad or other opportunities that enhance their Carolina experience and;
  • access to academic, personal and career support.

“Carolina has a rich history of serving the people and state of North Carolina. The Blue Sky Scholars program is designed to serve more North Carolinians,” said Bowles. “We want to recruit more of these promising, middle-income students and set them up to succeed while at Carolina and well beyond graduation. Not only are we helping prepare tomorrow’s leaders, we’ll help them hit the ground running in a modern workforce and without burdensome college debt.”

Bowles’ gift supports The Carolina Edge, a signature initiative in the University’s $4.25 billion fundraising campaign. For All Kind: the Campaign for Carolina is the most ambitious university fundraising campaign in the Southeast and in Carolina history. Nearly one-quarter of the overall campaign goal, $1 billion, will fund undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships to ensure the University can recruit the very best students.

The Campaign for Carolina is inspired by the Blueprint for Next, the University’s overall strategic framework built on two core strategies: “of the public, for the public,” and “innovation made fundamental. The Campaign for Carolina secured $2.23 billion through the end of fiscal year 2018, exceeding half of its goal ahead of schedule.

“With programs like the Carolina Covenant, we’ve tried to help our lowest-income students afford a world-class education at Carolina. Now the Blue Sky Scholars program allows us to put Carolina in financial reach for more middle-income students,” said Steve Farmer, vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions. “Not only will these scholars receive funds to help pay their tuition, but the work-study and enrichment awards will grant them the full Carolina experience and help them become the leaders and citizens we know they can be.”

UNC-Chapel Hill consistently ranks at the top of the list for best value in public higher education, reflecting the University’s commitment to opening access to a high-quality, affordable education to well-qualified students from all backgrounds. UNC-Chapel Hill is one of the few public flagships to practice need-blind admissions and proudly meets 100 percent of the documented need of undergraduates qualifying for need-based aid who apply on time. Carolina meets more than two-thirds of that need with grants and scholarships and the average debt of graduating students is 22 percent below the national average. Fourteen percent of the Class of 2022 qualified for the Carolina Covenant.

Bowles is a native North Carolinian, born and raised in Greensboro. He graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1967 with a bachelor of science degree in business administration and went on to receive an M.B.A. from Columbia University. A leader in the financial services sector, Bowles cofounded Carousel Capital, a Charlotte-based middle-market private equity firm. He has also served on the boards of various companies, including Morgan Stanley, Merck, Norfolk Southern and Facebook. In 1991, Bowles served as administrator of the Small Business Administration under President Bill Clinton, and later as Clinton’s deputy chief of staff and chief of staff. From 2005 to 2011, Bowles was president of the UNC System. He has also served as a board member of the Golden Leaf Foundation, the Duke Endowment, the Carolinas Medical Center and founded a private equity company to bring investment capital to rural North Carolina.