Cosby Pitches In For Alma Mater

Comedian Bill Cosby talks to students at the Pleasant Street School in Athol, Mass., Monday, March 15, 2004 photo.
The University of Massachusetts has entertainer Bill Cosby — one of its most famous graduates — to thank for helping raise $1.5 million for a new program aimed at giving scholarships to students from the poorer communities around the university.

A bulk of the money comes from a benefit concert that Cosby gave at his alma mater Friday.

Ticket sales and the price of admission to a pre-performance dinner generated $444,000, and university officials say individuals have contributed $541,000 to the Amherst campus for new scholarship funds. The state is matching the contribution with about $383,000, officials said. A $340,000 chunk was raised from Cosby's performance.

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 poorer communities in the region, he said.

"We want to say this is a place that reaches out to people living in depressed areas," Cosby said. "That this university has open arms for all Americans as a state school should."

Cosby said his hope is that students selected for the awards would teach in schools in economically depressed areas for at least two years after their graduation.

The entertainer, who has a home in Shelburne, received a master's degree and doctorate in education from the university in the 1970s.