Please vote ‘yes’ on campus initiatives

By Josh Rohrscheib

This Tuesday and Wednesday, you will be asked to vote on three separate referenda questions. These ask if you support two scholarship programs, and if you believe the University should increase its commitment to minority recruitment. I strongly urge you to vote ‘yes’ in response to all three questions.

The first question involves the creation of the Legacy of Service and Learning Scholarship. This scholarship would be a new and enduring source of both need- and merit-based financial aid created by a refundable fifteen dollar fee. Five dollars goes toward the immediate creation of new scholarships and ten goes into an endowment, and the interest from the endowment will create a permanent source of scholarships.

The Legacy of Service and Learning Scholarship will create a new surge of community service on campus. Every student awarded these scholarship dollars will be required to do fifty hours of community service to have their scholarship renewed. This requirement is based on the principle that by funding the scholarship, the community is making an investment in students, and these students will be expected to give back to the community.

Some have argued that fifty hours is too low of a requirement, but consider the following: 1) Students required to engage in service tend to enjoy it so much they continue giving back to their community beyond the required amount; 2) the program will increase service on campus; and 3) you can make a difference in fifty hours.

If this passes, next year there will be at least an additional $405,000 in scholarship funds available, and this amount will steadily increase. In twenty years, Student Affairs has projected the endowment will approach fifteen million dollars and over a million dollars in scholarships will be awarded each year. These amounts could dramatically increase if we succeed in getting alumni to donate to the program, and this is the kind of program alumni will be eager to support.

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The program allows students to proactively solve problems facing our University instead of futilely asking the state to solve these problems for us.

The second proposal is the Students for Equal Access to Learning fee. This refundable fee is only six dollars. This organization was created to provide need-based financial aid in 1970, and students have continually voted to renew the program.

This is an extraordinary value because the state provides matching funds that double the amount of scholarship funds available. These are state funds we would not have access to without the Students for Equal Access to Learning fee.

The final question concerns minority enrollment. In the last few years, freshman enrollment has increased dramatically, but the number of minority students has remained stagnant or in some cases even decreased. For example, since 1996 the total number of freshmen enrolled has risen from 5,946 to 7,584, while the number of African Americans enrolled decreased from 521 to 499.

This proposal does not advocate the creation of quota systems or any changes in the way the Office of Admissions reviews applicants. Instead, a ‘yes’ response acknowledges the need for the University to more actively recruit underrepresented students to increase the strength of our applicant pool. Without a renewed commitment to minority recruitment we will lose out on both the intellectual quality of these students and the diversity of background that they could offer this campus.

Answering ‘yes’ to these three questions will increase both the level of community service on our campus and the diversity of perspectives in our classrooms. While we can’t guarantee success we do have an obligation to guarantee that others have an opportunity to succeed. We can fulfill our promise to future students through the power of pooling our resources.

It is a fundamental principle of our society that the cost of progress is often sacrifice. By making the modest sacrifice of endorsing these three proposals you can contribute to lasting progress on our campus. Please vote ‘yes.’

Josh Rohrscheib is a third year law student, a guest columnist and the President of the Illinois Student Senate. He would like to thank Student Affairs, Vice-Provost Ruth Watkins and Financial Aid Director Dan Mann for their help with developing the Legacy of Service and Learning Scholarship proposal. He can be reached at [email protected].