AMHERST -- The University of Massachusetts has entertainer Bill Cosby, one of its most famous graduates, to thank for raising $1.5 million and setting up a new program aimed at giving scholarships to students from poorer communities near the college.
Much of the money comes from a benefit concert Cosby gave at his alma mater Friday.
Ticket sales and the price of admission to a dinner before the performance generated $444,000, and UMass officials say individuals have contributed $541,000 more to the Amherst campus for new scholarship funds. The state is matching the contribution with about $383,000, officials said. Cosby's performance raised $340,000 more.
Chancellor John Lombardi said the first scholarships will go to students in Springfield and Holyoke schools that already have partnership agreements with the university.
If the program is successful, it will be open to students from other poor communities in the region, including rural areas such as Athol and Montague, he said.
''We want to say this is a place that reaches out to people living in depressed areas, that this university has open arms for all Americans, as a state school should," Cosby said.
The four-level program will begin in the third grade, with students nominated by teachers, administrators, and community leaders. The students' progress will be checked in sixth and ninth grades. If the students are keeping high grades and are on track for college by the end of high school, they will be selected to receive scholarships to UMass.
Cosby said his hope is that the students selected for the awards would teach in schools in economically depressed areas for at least two years after their graduation.
Cosby, who has a home in Shelburne, earned a master's degree and doctorate in education from UMass.