Merit Scholarship endowment reaches $50K

Analicia Haynes, Senior Reporter

The Commitment to Excellence Scholarship Endowment has reached $50,000, a goal that was set in 2017.

However, the name of the scholarship program that the endowment is linked to has changed this year from “Commitment to Excellence Scholarships” to “Merit Scholarships.”

Andrew McNitt, a retired political science professor who has been an advocate for the creation of the endowment since it started collecting funds in 2015, said now that the endowment has reached the $50,000 mark, it can help the university offer the renewable merit based scholarship to one student every year.

The scholarship is renewable up to four years and is based on a tier system influenced by an incoming student’s grade point average rather than just their ACT score, according to Eastern’s website.

Incoming first-time freshmen with a 20 or higher ACT score and a GPA between 3.0 and 3.24 can receive $2,000 annually, a student with a GPA between 3.25 and 3.49 can receive $3,000 annually, and a student with a GPA between 3.5 and 4.0 can receive $4,000 annually.

The scholarship is also available to transfer students who have at least 15 credit hours transferred from an accredited college or university and a GPA between 3.0 and 4.0. Transfer students can receive $1,500 annually if they have a GPA between 3.0 and 3.49, and $2,500 annually with a GPA between 3.5 and 4.0.

In the beginning

McNitt said the idea of having an endowment was first brought up during former Eastern President William Perry’s administration, when the scholarship program was created.

At first the scholarships were supposed to be funded by yearly state appropriations, McNitt said.

But when Illinois entered the budget impasse in 2015, Eastern did not receive its full appropriation for several years following that.

McNitt said helping to start the endowment was a way to do something about the loss of funding and give the university incentive to continue the scholarship program.

McNitt, along with other Eastern faculty members including Kathleen Shank, retired special education department chair, came together to start raising money for the endowment.

“Kathleen Shank and I both very much wanted an endowment, and we had very different ideas … and we sort of merged the two ideas and created the fundraising efforts to create the endowment,” McNitt said.

In 2015 the goal was to put $25,000 in the endowment within five years.

It took 18 months.

In spring 2017 a new goal was created to raise $50,000, which McNitt said was achieved this year.

What next?

McNitt said the committee organizing fundraising efforts for the endowment will continue to raise funds.

Members in the committee are Shank, Richard Wandling, retired political science department chair; History Professor Bailey Young; Robert Whittenbarger, retired sociology department chair; and John Willems, the interim chair of the School of Business.

McNitt said his role in the big picture is to continue to ask for support for the endowment, something he says is valuable.

He said he got involved with this because he wanted to be able to do something after he retired from the university.

“I was looking for something to do after I retired….and I was not happy with what was going on with the university and the state and the funding there (in 2015) and I thought (starting the endowment) was a productive way to deal with my anger,” McNitt said. “I was upset with the loss of funding and it was much better to do something about the loss of funding than to yell and scream.”

He said current faculty, staff, alumni and the administration are very supportive of their efforts and he hopes the support will continue years after he decides to move back east to be closer to his children.

But until then, he said he will continue to encourage people to give, he will continue to write letters and address envelopes and “keep praising the cause.”

Analicia Haynes can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].