The France-Merrick Foundation has provided half a million dollars to create an endowed scholarship for first-generation college students — students whose parents did not graduate college — at Notre Dame of Maryland University.
The program, called the France-Merrick Foundation Endowed Scholarship for First-Generation Students, will award annual scholarships of up to $25,000, beginning in the 2024-25 academic year.
The scholarship is the first the foundation has established specifically geared towards first-generation students, as well as the first it has established at Notre Dame, though the foundation has funded 24 scholarships, totaling $12.5 million, at colleges and universities throughout the state of Maryland. Most of these scholarships are targeted at low-income students, minority students, or students involved in community service.
The scholarship ties in with a larger mission of Notre Dame to support its existing first-generation student population and to continue attracting more and more first-generation students; currently, 46% of the university’s undergraduate students are first generation. The university has established a number of resources and programs to support those students. They have access to workshops, seminars and small group sessions on topics ranging from study skills and financial aid, as well as mentorship and tutoring opportunities.
“Research has shown that first-generation college students, they face greater challenges than their peers with college-educated parents,” said Notre Dame President Marylou Yam, who was a first-generation student herself. “We want to enable (those) students to be successful in their college years and then successful in their careers.”
Notre Dame has been recognized in the past for providing opportunities for low-income students and others facing barriers to receiving a college education. US News and World Report ranked the university 21st for social mobility among 171 schools in the northern region, a ranking that indicates how successful a school is at enrolling and graduating economically disadvantaged students. In total, 96% of its Women’s College students receive some form of financial aid.
The France-Merrick Foundation was interested in funding this scholarship because it aligns with the foundation’s goal of supporting the success of students, especially underrepresented students, throughout the Greater Baltimore area.
Amy Gross, president of the France-Merrick Foundation, said the foundation was specifically interested in contributing to Notre Dame for several reasons. Firstly, the foundation wanted to help the school grow its scholarship endowment — of the $10 million in scholarships that Notre Dame provides annually, only $1 million comes from their endowment.
“There is a need to increase that for sustainability,” Gross said in an email.
The university’s importance in the community was also a factor in the France-Merrick Foundation’s decision to fund the scholarship. Because so many Notre Dame students are local to the area — a whopping 98% of students at the university’s undergraduate Women’s College are from Maryland, and 26% are from Baltimore city — the scholarships will largely go towards supporting the education of Baltimore students.
The foundation has made $2 million in contributions to Notre Dame in the past, though never before have those contributions gone towards scholarships. Past grants have gone towards capital improvements; most notably, grants from the foundation have gone towards Gibbons Hall, an academic and administrative building featuring Merrick Tower, and the Loyola/Notre Dame library.
“We hope that (Notre Dame is) able to grow their reputation and impact and raise more funds to support scholarships in general,” Gross said.