Couple donates $262K to UC Merced

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comMay 13, 2013 

— Longtime UC Merced supporter and UC Regent Frederick Ruiz and his wife Mitzie Ruiz recently donated $262,000 to the university in his mother's name to help financially struggling undocumented students.

The Rose R. Ruiz Endowed Scholarship and Fellowship Fund will support highly-motivated college students who qualify under the California Dream Act.

"The Ruiz family's generosity enables UC Merced to continue its mission of serving the underserved and helps make higher education a possibility for all," said UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland in a press release. "Their gift ensures Rosie Ruiz leaves an enduring legacy."

About $12,000 in scholarships will be given out next year to students, according to UC Merced staff. The remaining $250,000 will go to create an endowment for newly enrolled students.

"We wanted to do something lasting that would demonstrate the kind and generous nature of my mom," said Frederick Ruiz, a UC Regent since 2004, in the press release. "Her strong work ethic and belief in higher education were always an inspiration."

Passed in 2011, the California Dream Act allows undocumented students to receive scholarships from private funds, fee waivers and institutional student aid.

However, undocumented students are eligible for competitive Cal Grants only after all eligible California residents receive funding.

This scholarship money will help a lot of students, said undocumented freshman Michael Luna, who lives off campus and struggles to pay the bills.

"It would be a really big help," said the 19-year-old. "My mom doesn't make that much money. She can't help me to pay my rent or my phone (bill). It would help me to do better in school because I wouldn't have to worry about money as much."

"Financial aid is not enough to afford college," Luna added. "I don't know what to do sometimes. It affects my performance at school."

Undocumented students have been eligible for in-state-tuition rates since 2001. However, it's often hard for these students to find employment while earning a degree.

"Every little bit does make a difference," said undocumented freshman Nayeli Gonzalez, 18.

The first person in her family to go to college, she said she struggles with bills. "Financially it has been a challenge. Not being able to work is a big obstacle."

About 100 out of 5,300 university undergraduates this fall are undocumented, according to UC Merced officials. About 60 percent of undergraduates are the first in their families to attend a four-year college.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.

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