Creating Opportunity

Q&A: How Scholarships Change Lives

Director of Financial Aid Emily Williamson ‘13 has firsthand knowledge of the importance of scholarship support. Below, she shares why awards like the new Payne Family Impact Scholarship are critical for ensuring UM is an accessible and equitable institution.

How did your work in the Financial Aid Office lead you to recognize the need for this kind of scholarship support?

State and federal resources are limited and dedicated to low-income students. We analyzed internal data and found that many UM students who are just above the low-income threshold only qualify for federal loans, which do not cover tuition and fees, let alone living expenses, books and materials.

Director of Financial Aid Emily Williamson

Privately funded scholarships available through UM and other external sources help, but don’t yet meet the magnitude of need for these families. We identified a need for more privately funded scholarships to help students whose families make enough income to live on, but don’t have assets or savings to pay for college.

Why is support like the Payne Family Impact Scholarship so important at UM?

Many families in Montana are considered “middle income,” meaning they can afford basic expenses, but they’re often living paycheck to paycheck and do not have resources to pay for college. Privately funded scholarships can help middle-income families close the financial gap and ensure students who are ineligible for Pell Grants can still pursue a college degree.

How does scholarship support impact students’ lives?

Scholarship support helps students realize higher education is a possibility and envision a brighter future. I was a first-generation student from a low-income background, so UM was a gateway to my career and financial stability. I know these funds will create similar opportunities for current and future UM students.

You Can Help

To support students caught in the financial aid gap, contact Vice President of Development Kate Jennings at 406-243-4607 or