Coach John Calipari made a personal appeal during ESPN's College GameDay program Saturday to tip off a fund-raising effort for University of Kentucky student scholarships.
"As excited and honored as I am to return Kentucky basketball to its rightful place as the nation's premier college basketball program, I am just as motivated to help this university fulfill its Top 20 mission of creating a healthier, wealthier and better-educated Kentucky," said Calipari, who is co-chairing the new President's Scholarship Initiative with UK President Lee T. Todd Jr.
Anyone can donate $5 automatically by texting the word "Blue" to 50555, as UK adopts the texting method in a broad fund-raising effort.
UK's development office, which had planned to launch the scholarship drive this summer, moved up its effort to capitalize on the combination of GameDay exposure and Calipari as pitchman.
"You'd be crazy not to leverage all the excitement about your athletics," Todd said. "If you've got it, you ought to use it."
Calipari and his wife, Ellen, are donating $25,000 to jump-start the effort, Todd said. Calipari said Todd and his wife, Patsy, matched the Caliparis' donation.
Calipari also will encourage his network of 1.3 million followers on Twitter to donate via texting, said Mike Richey, UK's director of development.
UK has partnered for a year with a mobile network donation company, mGive, which works with the Red Cross to collect money for earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti.
The method of giving via text messaging is relatively new to university campaigns.
Todd said UK officials haven't set a financial goal for either this first scholarship push or for the main campaign that will seek larger donations this summer.
Two large donors have expressed interest, but those deals aren't final yet, said Susannah Denomme, director of development for institutional programs.
This campaign begins more than two years after UK successfully raised $1 billion to establish endowed professorships, fellowships and research efforts. That helped win $208 million in matching state funds, known as "Bucks for Brains."
Most importantly, Todd said, the focus on donations for scholarships will address a growing need. The need for student scholarships has been compounded by a recession that has chewed up many families' incomes and a decline in state funding that has led to tuition increases.
"If we don't have increased funding from tuition or general fund dollars, we're very likely going to have to cut back on scholarships," Todd said. "And that's the last thing we want to do."
Scholarships not only help good students with financial constraints achieve their goals of going to UK, they also can be a major selling point to sought-after students with means.
Abbas Mandviwala, a junior with a double major in biology and economics, said the full ride that UK offered him was the "deciding factor" in picking Lexington over Emory University.
Mandviwala, who graduated from South Laurel High School in London, received the Presidential scholarship to pay his tuition and the William C. Parker scholarship that covers room, board and books.
"While I was fortunate to come from a family who's well off, some of my friends couldn't go to college because they just couldn't afford it," he said.
That has become even more common over the last two years.
Last year, about 3,500 UK students qualified for federal Pell Grants, which provided as much as $4,241 that year per student for those with the greatest financial need, said Lynda George, UK's director of financial aid.
This year, that number already is above 4,000 students, she said.
UK also budgets between $200,000 and $250,000 in low-interest loans as a safety net for students who have exhausted their financial aid and scholarship options, George said.
"We know that's not enough at all," said Don Witt, vice provost for enrollment management.
Ideally, Witt said, the scholarship drive will generate enough money to create a fund of as much as $500,000 for the university to give grants — not loans — to such students so they can afford to come to UK.