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Feature

Christina Fairbanks

U of M student Christina Fairbanks would not have gone to college without the mentoring and scholarships she received.

Clearing the hurdles

A gift from William and Nadine McGuire addresses college preparation and scholarships for needy students

By Kermit Pattison

From M, spring 2006

Christina Fairbanks can look at the future instead of a closed door.

The University of Minnesota freshman has a resume sparkling with promise: multiple scholarships, a sterling academic record and aspirations of becoming a judge or psychologist.

A few years ago, however, her future wasn't so certain. She was one of four children of a single mother with few thoughts--or money--for college.

Then an organization called Admission Possible spotted her potential. Counselors steered Fairbanks onto the college prep track and helped her boost test scores. She graduated seventh in her St. Paul Arlington High School class and was accepted at 11 colleges, including private institutions such as Dartmouth and Carleton. In the end, she selected the U, in part because of its American Indian Studies programs and now has scholarships that allow her to focus on her studies. "It opens a door you think is closed to you," she says.

Who's going to college?

* In 1970, the highest-income students in the United States were 6.4 times more likely to earn a B.A. than those in the bottom quartile.
* By 2003, those in the wealthiest quartile were 8.3 times more likely to earn a degree.
* 75 percent of students from families earning $95,000 or more earn a B.A. by age 24.
* 9 percent of students from families earning $36,000 or less earn a B.A. by age 24.
* College participation among low-income families in Minnesota fell by 18 percent from 1992 to 2002.
* Minnesota, once a leader for college attendance among low-income families, now ranks 11th.

Many students soon will enjoy similar opportunities thanks to a recent gift from the William W. and Nadine M. McGuire Family Foundation. The gift provides nearly $4 million for scholarships at the University and for advising and mentoring programs to help students succeed.

The gift seeks to reduce three major hurdles often faced by low-income students: academic preparation, college admissions and financial aid, and remaining in college to complete a degree.

"There is disturbing data on the extent to which many Minnesota students face real academic and financial challenges in trying to achieve a fulfilling college education," William W. McGuire said in announcing the gift.

Up to 60 students entering the University in fall 2006 will be the first group to benefit from the gift and will receive four-year scholarships. The number of students helped will grow to about 120 with a second group beginning fall 2007. The scholarship will go to students whose family incomes qualify them to receive other kinds of need-based financial aid, such as Pell grants, adding whatever is necessary to their total financial aid packages to fund 90 percent of their costs, including tuition, fees, books, and room and board.

"Bill and Nadine's commitment to finding new ways to help underserved young people is bold and visionary," says University president Bob Bruininks. "They are role models of how people can make a real difference in the lives of students."

And, with the announcement of the McGuire gift, Fairbanks is glad that other students may find opportunities similar to hers. "It makes me really happy to know that there are people who realize the importance of gifts like this," she says. "If I hadn't gotten the help I did, I wouldn't be here today."