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California Using Scholarships to Lure Students to Community College

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To assist with the other costs of college besides tuition, the Los Rios Community College District has announced a new $750,000 scholarship for first-year students.

Funded by Wells Fargo, SAFE Credit Union, Sutter Health and VSP Global, the scholarship was created as an incentive for students to enroll in college.

“We just recognize that for our students, there so many other barriers in addition to tuition and so we wanted to raise private philanthropic support to help remove those barriers for our neediest students,” said Paula Allison, the associate vice chancellor of resource development at Los Rios Community College District.

For this upcoming fall semester, there were 120 scholarships awarded and each student received $500.

Within the Los Rios district, there are 13 campus locations and around $75,000 students enrolled annually.

The average cost of community colleges within the district is $46 per unit or credit. However, nearly one-third of Los Rios students live below the poverty line and another quarter are low-income, according to district statistics.

“For our students, $500 is a lot of money,” said Allison. “We just see the difference that scholarships make for students, especially a scholarship like this that is really open-ended. We tell the students to use it where your needs are greatest.”

Due to the high number of low-income students, the Los Rios Community College District has launched various financial assistance initiatives.

Last year, the district created the Los Rios Promise Program. The program provides new incoming first-time college students a year of tuition-free education.

To qualify for the program, students must be a California resident, a first-time college student and enroll in a minimum of 12 units or credits and a maximum of 18 units per semester.

Comparably, the new scholarship is awarded to first-year students who go above and beyond and have the greatest financial need. Students are required to enroll in a minimum of 15 units. To also be eligible, students must apply for the Promise Program.

“The need is so great so we have to have a way to winnow down that pool in a way to make it more manageable to achieve our fundraising goals so we can actually make the greatest impact,” said Allison.

Photo credits: Dianne Rose Photography

The district will now look towards developing the second phase of this scholarship, which will be public fundraising.

As an extension to the Promise Program, the state of California recently passed a budget that would make two years of community college free for first-time students.

The Los Rios District also set up an emergency fund, which allows students to apply for up to $2,000, one time, to help overcome a crisis situation and stay in school. Students must be in good standing and have an education plan in place.

“The unfortunate thing we are seeing in California is that the top two reasons why students come to us is because of homelessness or housing insecurity or food insecurity,” said Allison.

Those insecurity rates are higher for minority students.

According to a report by the Hope Center, rates of food insecurity among students identifying as African-American or Black, American Indian or Alaskan Native exceed 60 percent. This is approximately 10 percent higher than rates for Hispanic or Latinx students and almost 20 percent higher than rates for White students.

“It’s a pervasive problem throughout California because it is so expensive to live here,” said Allison.

Food banks are set up on campus as an additional way to help students. Additionally, every November, the district board and student organizations participate in a food drive with the focus on insecurity. The board does a matching gift.

“We’re using ‘Giving Tuesday’ as a way to leverage this matching fund and encourage our community to give to students who are experiencing insecurity, whether it be the food bank or to the student emergency fund,” said Allison.

For students such as Abraham Iniguez, who attends Folsom Lake College (FLC), the two-year tuition-free increase, as well as the Los Rios school-area scholarship programs, have reduced financial stress.

This year, Iniguez earned the FLC Rachel Rosenthal scholarship for his interest in STEM. The scholarship will help pay for his next semester of college.

“Community colleges are one of the best well kept secrets,” said Iniguez. “A lot of students come out of high school thinking they automatically need to go to a university. And that’s not the case. With community colleges, you’re basically taking the same classes as you would at a four-year school. I think it something that students should be encouraged to do more because it has so many benefits.”

Sarah Wood can be reached at swood@diversseeducation.com.

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