As a high school student at Westchester Enriched Sciences Magnets, Jelani Mora knew he wanted to go to college, but he wasn’t sure where to start and what he needed to do. Since he would be the first in his family to attend college, the idea felt pretty daunting, from preparing and paying for his college entrance exams to navigating the applications for federal Pell Grants and scholarships. Fortunately, he found guidance and help from some UCLA students, who served as mentors and motivated him to pursue higher education.
Mora met with those Bruins every week as part of UCLA’s Vice-Provost’s Initiative for Pre-College Scholars, or VIPS program, which partners with Los Angeles County school districts to help students become competitively eligible for admission to UCLA and other top universities. As part of the program, Mora didn’t just meet with UCLA students every week to review things like admission requirements, he also spent two summers taking college classes on campus, where he learned the value of a college degree.
But when he was admitted to UCLA — his dream school since he was in the fourth grade — Mora worried about how he and his family would pay for college.
“If I didn’t have the Chancellor’s Blue and Gold Scholarship, among my other scholarships, I wouldn’t be at UCLA,” said Mora, who is now a senior studying political science. Created in 1998, the Blue and Gold Scholarship is distributed among high-achieving students from Los Angeles County high schools that historically have sent few students to UCLA.
“I come from modest means, and there would be no way that my family would be able to afford college,” Mora said.
Hearing about how a student like Mora was able to become a Bruin and thrive is what drives Craig Ehrlich in his role as the board chair of the UCLA Foundation. With the COVID-19 pandemic plunging the world into a sharp economic downturn, Ehrlich and the foundation board members felt it was especially important for them to act and do even more to make sure that a UCLA education remained accessible to deserving students.
The foundation, which has a core mission to build and promote philanthropy for UCLA, increased its quarterly payout of endowed funds from 4.25% to 5%. The result is a distribution of $129 million to campus fund holders during the 2020–21 fiscal year — with an additional $5 million allocated to support students through financial aid and programs.
“I’ve been able to watch UCLA do things that just change people’s lives,” said Ehrlich, who graduated in 1978. “The importance of what UCLA has created brings great pride, and I hope to connect all of that into this $5 million.”
Of the funds currently allocated:
- $1 million will go to the Chancellor’s Blue and Gold Scholarship Fund
- $1 million will go to the UCLA Black Alumni Association’s Winston C. Doby Legacy Scholarship Fund
- $1 million will go to UCLA’s COVID Emergency Fund for UCLA Admissions
- $900,000 will go to emergency support in the areas of mental health, leadership training and basic needs/crisis response
- $160,000 will go to student government program funds and internships
“With the current situation, financial hardships being very apparent, the objective is to get this money into the systems immediately to have an impact immediately,” said Ehrlich, a Los Angeles native who grew up attending public schools. “Students don’t have bus money. They don’t have apartment rent for a month. They don’t have food. Those emergencies have escalated due to COVID.”
The foundation worked closely with Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, vice provost for enrollment management, to determine UCLA’s areas of greatest need.
“These priorities acknowledge the unequal burden that middle- and low-income families face in challenging economic times,” Copeland-Morgan said. “We hear about families having challenges trying to pay rent or family expenses. But what we don’t hear about are the ways in which students feel obligated to take on additional debt or work to supplement their family’s needs. For students from middle- and low-income families, when the family hurts financially, it places an additional burden on them, because they want to give back in whatever way they can.”
Preserving the legacy
When Michelle Johnson, president of the UCLA Black Alumni Association, heard about the UCLA Foundation’s $1 million gift to the Doby Legacy Scholarship, she said she could “barely contain” herself.
“I was just overwhelmed,” Johnson said. “I was trying to be cool, calm and collected on Zoom, but I wanted to turn my video off and scream! It was awesome news.”
The $1 million gift will be annually distributed as $10,000 scholarships for up to 25 students over the course of four years, with UCLA providing a 3-to-1 match for each scholarship.
Created in 2007, the Doby Legacy Scholarship helps to increase Black student enrollment at UCLA, which became even more important after Proposition 209 banned affirmative action in California. Managed through the California Community Foundation, the scholarship has distributed more than $3.4 million to more than 700 Black students.
“UCLA has seen a steady increase in Black enrollment, and a big part of that has been our ability to offer competitive scholarship money,” said Robert Grace, the UCLA Black Alumni Association board chair. “The foundation’s gift is going to help us turn our attention to more middle- and low-income Black students who are admitted but may not qualify for scholarship money, just solely on merit. It is going to have a big impact overall.”
Blue and Gold Bruins
The foundation’s gift to the Chancellor’s Blue and Gold Scholarship Fund will assist both high school students and transfer students from Los Angeles–area community colleges. Currently, the fund spends more than $1 million annually on scholarships, supporting approximately 350 students, who each receive up to $5,000 a year.
“I had calculated my budget, and if I wasn’t granted the scholarship, I probably wouldn’t go to UCLA in the first place,” said Villy Basuki, another recipient of the Blue and Gold Scholarship. A transfer student from Los Angeles Pierce College, Basuki graduated in June with a degree in sociology and a double minor in global health and global studies — while also juggling the responsibilities of being a parenting student and working full time.
“It was really stressful, especially during my first year,” Basuki said. “As a first-generation student, I had a hazy view of how to navigate the UC system.” She credits her success to the abundance of resources at UCLA, including the Academic Advancement Program and the Center for Community College Partnerships, or CCCP, which assists community college transfer students with academic preparation and competitiveness. Basuki became a peer mentor at CCCP to help other students prepare to transfer to a four-year university.
She was also involved with other resources near campus, such as being an intern at the 580 Cafe, a community space for students that offers free food, Wi-Fi and a safe place to study.
“I found my own community — something I didn’t think I would find at UCLA,” said Basuki, who is working toward a master of science degree in health care management at Cal State Los Angeles. “I feel that being a Bruin is a lifetime identity for me.”
The power of philanthropy
Helping students find their identity as lifelong Bruins is so important to the foundation, Ehrlich noted, because UCLA’s academic excellence, research, innovation and service is so important to the community. The foundation’s $5 million gift will go far in advancing the university’s commitment to accessibility and diversity — from the students who are able to fulfill their dream of attending UCLA to the staff and faculty who are dedicated to ensuring everyone has the resources they need to achieve their goals.
“The gift of money goes beyond the dollar value. The gift of philanthropy opens up opportunities for students,” Copeland-Morgan explained. “The foundation members are focused on the experiences of our current and new Bruins, and they know that their good work increases opportunities for us to do better work through their generosity.”
That generosity and what it empowers is why Mora is so excited for his future. After he graduates, he plans to pursue a career at a public transportation agency in the Bay Area.
“It’s been very rewarding to be a Bruin. I’m so proud,” said Mora, who believes UCLA’s many resources and supportive community have been invaluable to his college experience. “My parents and my grandma love to tell anyone and everyone. They’ll tell someone at the grocery store, ‘Oh, yeah, my son goes to UCLA.’ And then I get embarrassed.”