New Scholarship Supports First-Generation Graduate Business Students

Students who are the first in their family to attend college face financial, academic, and psychological challenges unlike students whose parents earned a college degree, and these challenges were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, the Raymond A. Mason School of Business has launched a new scholarship initiative for students in the Full-Time MBA program who identify as first-generation students.

Financial awards under the Full-Time MBA First-Generation Scholarship are funded by generous donations from Mason School alumni who wish to support first-generation, graduate business students by offsetting tuition costs associated with the Full-Time MBA program.

“We know that business education puts our graduates on a new career trajectory, elevating not only their skills but also their ambitions. This can uplift a family for generations,” said Larry Pulley ‘74, Dean of the Mason School of Business. “That opportunity must not be restricted solely to those who can already afford it. We want that opportunity to be available to a diverse group of students.”

It is one of the latest in a series of initiatives launched by the business school to increase its efforts to support first generation, low-income (FGLI) students at both the graduate and undergraduate levels through a multipronged approach expanding existing resources and introducing new programs.

FGLI Barriers to Higher Ed

According to recent surveys, prospective full-time MBA students considering William & Mary’s program will weigh several critical factors in their decision-making process such as the cost of the program including living expenses, and the return on investment on job prospects following graduation.

For FGLI students, however, those considerations are augmented by the accrued debt associated with their undergraduate degrees and limitations to leaving the workforce for two years to complete the program.

“FGLI students have to think about the amount of debt they’re already in when they consider pursuing higher education or a post-graduate degree. This scholarship will bring more opportunity to first-generation students who may already be in a tough financial position from the cost of their undergraduate degrees,” said Danny Hayden, FTMBA ’21.

Hayden is a FGLI student who benefited from the Business School Foundation’s increased efforts over the last several years to raise scholarships. Both he and his wife, Harley Hayden, FTMBA ’21 were awarded merit-based aid which unlocked the opportunity for them to simultaneously attend William & Mary’s MBA program.

“Our scholarships helped ease a lot of the burden and took away the stress to give us more time and mental energy to focus on school rather than on financial planning,” he explained. “This type of financial help will open up opportunities to prospective students who may not have otherwise considered the full-time MBA program. It will bring in more diverse candidates who may not have the financial resources that others have, though they possess the work ethic and intelligence to match those who can afford it.”

Alumni Engagement is Key

A report by the Center for First-Generation Student Success found that universities committed to establishing an engaged community of faculty, staff, students, university leaders, families, community members, stakeholders, and first-generation alumni are more likely to create a foundation for greater FGLI success.

Approximately 61 percent of institutions that responded to the national survey have engaged first-generation alumni in philanthropic giving which is critical to fund aid for FGLI students as they have been the hardest hit by COVID-19, accounting for the steepest enrollment declines especially by students of color, rural white students, and low-income students. Couple those factors with new research from The Graduate Management Admission Council™ (GMAC™) showing a 66 percent increase in application volume to MBA programs, the process has become more challenging and competitive than ever for FGLI candidates.

“Recognizing the unique circumstances and considerations of FGLI students, which was my personal college experience, we know this scholarship will open the door to candidates by providing them with the opportunity to compete and thrive in a post-graduate environment,” said Kim Sperling, Senior Director of Development & Alumni Engagement for MBA Programs. “It eliminates a barrier to entry – the financial burden that a prospective student must consider and the associated costs incurred by pursuing a master’s degree. By engaging our enthusiastic and supportive Mason School alumni, specifically alumni who are from FGLI backgrounds themselves, we can sustain a virtuous cycle of giving to the next generation of business leaders.”

The Mason School, which is recognized for its diversity among full-time MBA cohorts, hopes this scholarship will enable the admissions team to recruit the best and brightest into the program, empower those students to secure full-time employment upon graduation, and build on an already well-established reputation for academic and professional excellence.

“I think the school will be able to attract candidates who have really unique skills but who otherwise may be hesitant to apply because their background is different or they had to hustle through undergrad. Their grades may reflect that,” said Harley Hayden. “I plan to donate to the fund as an alumna of the Mason School because I want to help people like me have the opportunity to earn an advanced degree. I may have had a difficult life growing up, but now I will have my MBA to stand on and it has given me confidence in a way that other things in my life haven’t.”

According to Amanda Barth, Assistant Dean for MBA Admissions, establishing the Full-Time MBA First Generation Scholarship is just the first of many positive steps they plan to take in order to increase student diversity efforts at the Mason School.

“Scholarship support for first generation and low-income MBA candidates will allow our Admissions teams to promote accessibility to graduate management education for any applicant who has demonstrated academic and professional achievement. Increased earning potential, lifelong learning skills, and significant career advancement are all benefits of earning a master’s degree, and will be paid forward to future generations,” said Barth.

For more information about the Full-Time MBA First Generation Scholarship or to offer a financial gift in support of first-generation students at the Mason School, please contact Kim Sperling at (757) 221-7848 or