The Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars Program supports low-income students who are first in their families to attend college. The University of Florida is committed to financially supporting academically-talented students who might not otherwise attend UF because of financial barriers. National studies have shown that students from low socio-economic backgrounds can be deterred from enrolling in a four-year college or university because of fear of debt and concerns that working while in school could hamper their chances for academic success. Many of these students opt instead to enroll in community colleges or choose not to attend college at all.
To help address this concern, in fall 2005, President Bernie Machen asked then Vice President of Student Affairs Patricia Telles-Irvin to design a new financial aid access program for first generation college students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
President Machen approved a proposal to provide full grant and scholarship financial aid packages to first-generation-in-college freshmen Florida resident students from families who made less than $40,000 per year. The program, which was endorsed by the UF Board of Trustees, was named the Florida Opportunity Scholars Program and was available to first-time-in-college students enrolling summer 2006 or later. The program provides recipients a full grant and scholarship package to earn a bachelor’s degree. Two million dollars in grant assistance was committed for the 2006-07 inaugural year and support has since increased to $12 million dollars in 2014-15 to fund both returning students and a new first-year class every year since 2006. The program is also assisted by private support. In Fall 2012, the program received its largest one-time gift of $10 million dollars to rename the program in honor of the original champions, Bernie and Chris Machen.
The program continues to receive support from President Kent Fuchs, President Emeritus Bernard Machen, Machen Florida Opportunity Scholarship Program Director Leslie Pendleton, and donors, as well as campus administrators, faculty, alumni, and students.
The transformational Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars program celebrated its first 10 years in fall 2016. During that decade, almost 4,000 students received scholarships.