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Ravell Call, Deseret News
A University of Utah license plate in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011.

SALT LAKE CITY — At a time when families are tightening their belts, most would expect people to be donating less, yet Ute alumni appear to be giving more for scholarships and to the university overall.

"Most of the numbers are up surprisingly," said U. Alumni Association Director John Ashton.

This past fiscal year, Utes donated $488,280 to the Alumni Association's scholarship fund, up 31 percent over the previous year. The year before, donations were up 17 percent.

Alumni officials say it's hard to explain why the reverse trend has taken place, but they can identify a major source of donations comes from a familiar site on the road: university license plates. For $35 a year, many motorists choose to purchase college license plates from the Utah Department of Motor Vehicles. This past fiscal year, Utah motorists donated around $277,000. The funds go to support up to 80 students who excel academically but face unique challenges.

"It's more critical than ever because tuition is going up in double digits every year. It's more critical than anytime that I've been here," Ashton said.

Other money is raised through a wide variety of events, including events scheduled to be held this Saturday to kick off the U.'s Homecoming Week. This year's theme, "Pac to the Future!" reflects the university's recent inclusion into the Pac-12.

For students receiving scholarships from those funds, the help means the difference between achieving a better education and future, and dropping out.

JP Tarbutton is a 37-year-old father of three who became a victim of the economic downturn after working 12 years in customer service and sales.

Now he is enrolled at the U. majoring in business administration with plans to go to law school, thanks to several scholarships. "It's life changing, it really is," Tarbutton said. "Without this scholarship I wouldn't have been able to go."

For a while, Tarbutton tried to work full time and go to school full time, but found he had little time to work on internships, let alone spend time with his kids. "Now I can spend time with my kids, at least a little bit," he said. Still, he manages to maintain a 4.0 GPA.

Rouzbeh Mirhosseini came to the United States with his parents from Iran, but due to family and business issues his parents had to leave him in the U.S. on his own. Only 17 and still in high school, Mirhosseini managed to graduate as varsity soccer captain. Now a double major in business administration and accounting, he said his scholarships touch him on a personal level.

"All of the hard work that you put in, sometimes working double, or triple as hard as (native English-speaking) students," Mirhosseini said. "This shows that there's someone out there who is really watching and appreciating what you're doing. It shows that someone really cares."

Overall charitable donations to the University of Utah are also up. Last fiscal year saw more than $187 million and in 2010, $164 million. Those funds go to maintain a wide variety of programs and facilities.

Ashton said much of the alumni contributions don't come in the form of large donations, but rather small ones. "We're not raising huge amounts, it's coming from a large amount of sources."

Next week a variety of fund-raising events will take place, including the Scholarship Scramble golf tournament, the homecoming dance and a homecoming 5K run/walk. A list of all events can be seen at the U's homecoming page.


U. "Pac to the Future!" events:

Sept. 24: 8 a.m. - Noon

Legacy of Lowell Community Service Day at Mountain View Elementary.

Sept. 27: 6 p.m.

U. graduates from 40 years ago will gather at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts for an Emeritus Reunion; $25/person.

Sept. 30: 8 a.m.

Scholarship Scramble golf tournament at the Bonneville Golf Course; $150/person.

9 p.m. Homecoming dance at The Depot (400 S. West Temple); $6/student.

Oct. 1: 7:30 a.m.

5K Run/Walk/Stroll at the Alumni House (155 S. Campus Drive); $30/adult ($35 day of) and $12/child ($15 day of).

E-mail: gfattah@desnews.com