Crowdfunding project aims to increase UTOP participation

Friday, November 8, 2019

The University Transition Opportunities Program (UTOP) is using Crowdfund UNC Charlotte to help even more students kick start their UNC Charlotte experience through the program’s Participant Fee Assistance Scholarship.

UTOP participants enroll in classes together for seven credit hours, and they develop study skills and college survival tips. Additionally, they become more familiar with the campus and its resources, join in co-curricular activities and receive academic advising and monitoring during their first year.

Alumna Karen Lumbu Kinard ’11 admits leaving her close-knit family in Greensboro to attend college at UNC Charlotte was nerve-wracking. But the warm welcome she received from UTOP eased her tension.

“Had I not gotten that chance to immerse myself during the summer prior to my freshman year, I’m not sure how my Charlotte experience would have been,” she said. “UTOP staff are very welcoming, very friendly, very supportive.” 

So when Kinard’s younger sister, Grace Lumbu, decided to enroll at UNC Charlotte, Kinard encouraged her to attend UTOP, which for 33 years has been helping underrepresented students adjust to college life.

“You cannot go to UNC Charlotte without going through UTOP,” Kinard told her sister.

Crowdfund UNC Charlotte is an online platform for students, faculty and staff to raise money to support ventures that are important to them. UTOP is seeking funding for its Participant Fee Assistance Scholarship.

UTOP costs include summer tuition and fees for the seven credit hours, housing and a $250 participant fee, said Shawn Simmons, UTOP program director. UTOP offers scholarships and grants for tuition and housing, but the $250 fee is a burden for a lot of UTOP participants. Many of the students come from households where the expected family contribution is zero.

“The $250 participant fee is another charge that families have to come up with in addition to high school graduation costs, prom costs, orientation fees and all other costs associated with finishing high school and transitioning to college,” Simmons said. “With the support of UTOP alumni and others through the crowdfunding campaign, we are hoping that particularly alumni will donate $250 to sponsor at least one student to cover their participant fee for the program.”

Herman Thomas, professor emeritus of Religious Studies, initially founded UTOP in 1986 to increase retention and graduation rates for African American students enrolled in the University. Today, UTOP is open to students of all backgrounds, but the program continues to recruit students from underrepresented populations, Simmons said. 

And its tactics are working.

“Research from the past decade indicates that students who participate in UTOP were retained after one year at a rate nearly 11 percent higher than underrepresented students who did not attend the program, and almost 13 percent higher than all first-time freshmen,” Simmons said.

“The percentage of UTOP students who graduated after six years was more than 11.5 percent higher than underrepresented students who did not participate and 10 percent higher than all first-time, full-time freshmen.”