WMU tells first step of how largest financial gift to public school will benefit students

KALAMAZOO, MI – First-year students from families of modest means will get up to five years of free tuition at Western Michigan University care of The Bronco Promise.

One of the first initiatives made possible by the $550 million gift of anonymous donors to the WMU Foundation, The Bronco Promise is set to provide a tuition-free Western education for up to five years for first-year students from Michigan families who earn $50,000 or less (in annual adjusted gross earnings) or who have $50,000 or less who have net assets.

The university expects to award 340 students during the 2022-23 academic year and about 600 students each year after that.

WMU President Edward Montgomery made that announcement Thursday as one of the first initiatives of the Empowering Futures Gift. Announcements were made during visits with alumni and others in Detroit, Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo. According to information provided by WMU, students who attend Kalamazoo Public Schools or who are residents in Detroit or Grand Rapids will get preference for the need-based scholarships. All Michigan residents are eligible to apply, however, and scholarship applications are due Feb. 15, 2022.  The first awards are to be announced in March.

The Bronco Promise expands upon federal Pell Grant support to cover tuition costs. To be considered students must complete the free application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and participate in financial literacy training.

"In this rapidly changing world, a college education is more important than ever. But the cost of that education has shifted from the public to the student, putting it increasingly out of reach for too many. Western Michigan University is closing that gap by taking a holistic view of student success," Montgomery said in a prepared statement. "The University is building an ecosystem of financial aid and programmatic support designed to meet students where they are and support them in their ambitions."

Montgomery also announced plans to provide up to $6,000 in housing and dining scholarships to 110 incoming students for their first year and offer holistic support for the living experience in the form of a new Living Learning Community.

Communities located inside on-campus residences will cluster students according to their academic majors but are also expected to give students a chance “to discover their interests while they explore careers, get involved in campus life and hone their study skills.” They will also try to be responsive to students “who are still exploring upon arrival or who may wish to build community around a cause, such as social justice, or a competency, like leadership.” 

The $550 million Empowering Futures Gift – which is to be contributed to the WMU Foundation over a 10-year period — will also:

• Help students gain on-the-job experience by providing financial support for internships at private and nonprofit organizations. It will fund internship stipends to help foster career development and graduation scholarships for 1,350 incoming and current WMU students during its first year. And it will subsidize up to $3,600 in wages for up to 100 students each year, according to the university. It will also support additional staffing to help connect students with leading employers.

• Support 800 upper-level students each year with a need-based award up to $1,000 to be used to to cover gaps in their tuition and fees. It will double the number of graduation scholarships currently offered at Western.

The Empowering Futures Gift is intended to fund scholarships, advance medical education/research, support faculty expertise, increase athletic competitiveness and make numerous student-centered initiatives possible, according to the university. Announced in June of 2021, the act of philanthropy is considered the largest gift ever provided to a public university in the United States. Provided by WMU alumni who have chosen not to be named, the gift earmarks $200 million for WMU in general, $300 million to the WMU Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine, and $50 million for Bronco Athletics.
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Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.