OXFORD, Miss. – New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning and his wife, Abby, are ensuring some of Mississippi's neediest students are able to pursue college degrees at the University of Mississippi. They have announced a $1 million gift to Ole Miss Opportunity, a need-based scholarship program.
"We recently talked with Chancellor Jones about several ways that we could give back," Eli Manning said. "Abby and I were drawn to this program of helping people who might not be able to attend college otherwise. To us, it was a way of truly helping a lot of people."
Created earlier this year to increase access to higher education in light of rising tuition costs, Ole Miss Opportunity ensures that eligible low-income Mississippians will have financial aid support. Higher education is a critical factor in economic and societal progress, and U.S. Census Bureau data indicate only 31.7 percent of Mississippians 25 to 34 years of age have college degrees.
"Academics was very important to me when I was here. I studied and worked hard trying to make good grades. This giving back is really about giving someone a chance to enjoy Ole Miss," said Manning, who met his wife when they were both students. "The reason I came to Ole Miss over many other schools is because I thought if I never played a down of football, this is where I would want to go to school. That's why we had a focus on this (scholarship program)."
Chancellor Dan Jones said the Mannings' gift for an endowed fund will provide "life-changing opportunities" and will be instrumental in moving the state forward.
"We are profoundly grateful to Abby and Eli Manning for their support of Ole Miss Opportunity," Jones said. "When I shared the significant need to increase access to higher education in our state, they made the commitment to help alleviate the financial challenges families face."
Abby McGrew Manning, a native of Nashville, earned a degree in family and consumer sciences in 2005 and pursued a career in the fashion industry. New Orleans native Eli Manning followed in the footsteps of his parents, Olivia and Archie Manning, by attending Ole Miss, where he essentially rewrote the football team's record book, setting or tying 47 game, season and career records. He garnered a wealth of awards, such as the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, Maxwell Award as the nation's best all-around player and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. He graduated in 2003 with a degree in marketing.
The No. 1 draft pick in 2004, Manning led the Giants to win Super Bowl XLII in 2008, when he was chosen Most Valuable Player.
When contemplating his own college experience and the students who will receive the scholarships, Manning offered some advice: "Enjoy the experience of being an Ole Miss student. Enjoy the faculty, the athletics, the arts, the music – everything Ole Miss has to offer. Be open-minded. See what you're passionate about. Find the thing that you love and go all out for it. … Ole Miss prepares you for life. It teaches you how treat people and how to be a good person. That's something special that will take you a long way in life."
Jones applauded the Mannings for embracing their family's legacy through resources for scholarships at Ole Miss.
"The Manning family has built a strong legacy of support impacting Ole Miss for more than four decades," he said. "This major commitment to our academic programs from a family strongly associated with our athletics programs will certainly inspire others to support our students and faculty. We are grateful that Abby and Eli Manning are part of the Ole Miss family."
The Mannings have a home in Oxford and said they enjoy their continued involvement with the university, the community and local friends.
UM launched Ole Miss Opportunity earlier this year after the board of trustees of state Institutions of Higher Learning approved a tuition increase for the state's universities (6.5 percent for UM). The program fills the funding gap after all federal, state, institutional and private scholarships and grants awarded to a student have been considered, ensuring that eligible Mississippi students receive financial aid support to cover the average cost of tuition, housing and an allowance for meals. Criteria for eligibility include a family adjusted gross income at or below $30,000.
Besides support for Ole Miss Opportunity, the Mannings have committed to helping the Friends of Children's Hospital raise $2.5 million over a five-year span for the Eli Manning Children's Clinics at the Blair E. Batson Hospital, which is part of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. Manning and his wife were joined by his parents, brothers and their spouses in June for the fourth annual fundraising event, "Evening with the Mannings," bringing the total for the first four years to $2.46 million.
Ole Miss Opportunity is open to accept gifts from other individuals and organizations by visiting http://www.umfoundation.com/makeagift, by calling 800-340-9542 or by mailing a check to the University of Mississippi Foundation with the name of the fund noted to 406 University Avenue, Oxford, MS 38655. Those interested in the scholarship fund may visit http://www.olemiss.edu/finaid and click on "prospective students" and then "freshman" or call 800-891-4596.