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Scholarship fund to help blacks go to UCLA

March 29, 2007|Rebecca Trounson | Times Staff Writer

Concerned that finances may be one reason many African American students decide not to enroll at UCLA, a private group led by several prominent alumni has raised $1.75 million to bankroll scholarships for black freshmen.

The group, which is headed by Los Angeles businessman Peter J. Taylor and leaders of UCLA's Black Alumni Assn., will make its first scholarship offers in the next few days and plans to give at least $1,000 to each admitted black freshman who enrolls. Additional awards will be based on financial need and academic merit.

"We want to take finances out of the equation for these students, to the extent we can," Taylor said.

The scholarship fund will be administered by the nonprofit, Los Angeles-based California Community Foundation, which plans to announce it today.

UCLA has no direct role in the scholarships, but the private fundraising has been encouraged by UCLA leaders, including interim Chancellor Norman Abrams, as an innovative way to boost the dwindling number of black students at the Westwood campus.

California's 10-year-old Proposition 209 prohibits the state's public institutions from considering race in admissions or hiring; proponents have said it also bars such schools from any direct involvement in student scholarships or recruitment efforts based on race.

Sharon L. Browne, a lawyer for the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, which has been involved in lawsuits that allege violations of Proposition 209, said she was disappointed that UCLA alumni would choose students for scholarships on the basis of race. But she said any violation of the law probably would hinge on the direct involvement of the campus or campus officials.

The number of African American students at UCLA has been dropping for years, despite a history of black student leadership and a legacy that includes such prominent alumni as former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and Nobel Peace Prize winner Ralph Bunche.

Last summer, in what UCLA leaders described as a crisis, only about 100 black students said they planned to enroll in the current freshman class of about 4,800. That figure, the lowest in more than three decades, prompted leading UCLA faculty and administrators to push for a new "holistic" approach to admissions, which was implemented last fall.

Freshman applicants will learn this week of UCLA's admissions decisions. And within days of those notices, Taylor said, African American students will receive letters, and specific dollar offers, from the scholarship fund. The awards could go as high as $9,000 a year for four years.

Taylor and others who were interviewed said the scholarships were needed to help UCLA compete for top black students who might otherwise accept offers of admission -- and financial aid -- from private universities and out-of-state public schools that are not bound by Proposition 209's restrictions. He said that a recent survey by UCLA and UC system researchers also showed that financial concerns were a significant factor for two-thirds of black students who turned UCLA down one recent year.

"We're not as expensive as Stanford and Ivy League schools," Taylor said. "If we can take money out of the picture for these students, we think UCLA's campus and academic programs will sell themselves."

Abrams, a veteran UCLA law professor who has served as acting chancellor since Albert Carnesale stepped down last June, praised Taylor and fellow alumnus Rickey Ivie, a Los Angeles attorney, for helping the scholarship fund get off the ground. Taylor is a former University of California regent and former president of the UCLA Alumni Assn.; Ivie is chairman of the board of directors of UCLA's Black Alumni Assn.

Abrams said he hoped that the fund would encourage other UCLA graduates or community members to launch similar efforts on behalf of other students.

"This was done in order to increase the numbers of African American students," Abrams said. "But I hope it may provide a model to every community to set up private scholarships that target students in their community, if they are so minded.... We want the very best students for UCLA from all groups."

Ivie said the Black Alumni Assn. has a long history of raising money for scholarships at UCLA. But its fundraising efforts took on special urgency after UCLA's enrollment figures were released last summer, he said.

"Many of us were shocked by those numbers," said Ivie, who is senior partner in a downtown Los Angeles law firm. "We realized we had been complacent about what 209 brought to the legal and educational landscape, and we shouldn't have been."

Galvanized by that concern, the organization raised more than $100,000 for the fund at a February dinner, Ivie said.

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