The University of North Georgia has raised more than $1 million for student scholarships in the past year and celebrated the achievement at the university’s second annual Scholarship Ball, held March 28 at Forsyth Convention Center in Cumming.
The Scholarship Ball itself raised $340,498, including two pledges of $31,249 made at the event to exceed the $1 million mark. The amount raised by the ball exceeds the inaugural event, which raised $212,620. All proceeds fund scholarships for UNG students. UNG President Bonita Jacobs has made increasing scholarship support for students one her top priorities as president.
"We know that higher education is transformational and it changes lives by opening new doors of opportunity and strengthening communities," Jacobs said. "Unfortunately, many students do not get the chance to experience college without the benefit of scholarships. Through the extraordinary work of our foundation trustees and advancement team, and through your generous support, we are able to lessen the financial burden of attending college."
With college enrollment increasing and many families struggling to pay for college, more students across the nation are seeking financial assistance to pursue higher education. Most UNG students receive some type of financial aid, from scholarships and grants to student loans. The university consistently has been recognized by Kiplinger Personal Finance as one of the Top 100 Best Value Public Colleges in the nation, including being ranked No. 1 in the nation in 2013 for students having the least amount of debt at graduation.
"We are here tonight to reaffirm a promise we have all made to the students of the University of North Georgia by supporting their efforts to receive the highest quality education and become productive leaders in society," said Dr. Andrew Leavitt, vice president for university advancement and CEO of the university’s two philanthropic foundations, who served as event emcee. "Through the extraordinary work of our trustees in both foundations, we keep this promise by raising funds from generous donors and alumni to lessen the financial burden of college."
Leavitt also announced two new scholarships funded by the Forsyth County Arts Alliance and John and Mary Helen McGruder.
The event, which featured a Roaring '20s theme and live entertainment, was attended by more than 400 community members, business leaders, and UNG faculty and staff. Next year’s Scholarship Ball will be in Dahlonega on Saturday, March 21, 2015.
During the ball, Jacobs also presented the Presidential Leadership Award to Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt, who has served in that role since 1970.
"Tonight, we have the privilege of honoring a very special leader who is known for 'making things happen.' With vision and determination, he led Cumming and Forsyth County officials and community leaders in efforts to bring higher education to this community," Jacobs said. "As a result of his perseverance, UNG will increase the educational attainment of students in this community and help our region continue to prosper."
For almost 20 years, Gravitt led Cumming and Forsyth County officials and community members in efforts to bring higher education to the area. In 2011, the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia approved the project; the building, with a capacity to serve around 1,000, opened in August 2012 with more than 500 students enrolled. This spring, enrollment in college courses exceeded 650 at the Cumming Campus, including students pursuing all levels of degrees, from associate to graduate.
In accepting the award, Gravitt remembered those who had influenced his life – from his mother, who raised nine children alone after Gravitt’s father died, to his "biggest cheerleader," wife Carolyn. Gravitt has endowed a UNG scholarship to honor his wife, and one to honor his alma mater, Forsyth County High School.
"It’s been a long ride and I’m one of the luckiest persons in the room tonight," Gravitt said, also thanking mentors who guided him into politics and supporters who have encouraged him to remain a public servant for almost 50 years. "I couldn't have done all of the things that have happened in Cumming and Forsyth County without the help of a lot of people."
Previous winners of the Presidential Leadership Award are Mike Cottrell, Paul Stringer and George Coleman.
With more than 15,000 students on four campuses, UNG is the sixth-largest public university in Georgia and is designated as The Military College of Georgia and a state leadership institution. UNG offers more than 100 programs of study ranging from associate degrees to graduate programs.