By: Deanna Green

Setting records feels good. Even better when you’re providing scholarships that open opportunities for students.

This year, the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington saw growing interest in its scholarship program. Students sent in close to 600 applications. Our fundholders responded with a record-setting year of scholarship awards that totaled $749,644.

When comparing this growth to previous years, you start to see a consistent upward trend. In fact, our scholarship program has been recording increases over the last decade. During this timeframe (2009-2019), our scholarship program has awarded more than $5 million to students.

Why the need for scholarship opportunities is increasing

While this growth is incredible, it mirrors a concerning trend in college funding. Increasing tuition costs have put more of a burden on students and families. As a result, scholarships are now critical for students to fill the gap between what they can afford and what college actually costs. Thankfully, southwest Washington residents have long believed in the importance of education. Many of them have cared enough to support or establish scholarship funds at the Community Foundation.

In doing so, they created a strong, local funding source for our region’s promising young minds. And it is these 247 hard-working, bright and engaged local students that made 2019 extra special. Their success stories multiply our efforts, and our staff and donors are honored to play a part in continuing their record of accomplishment.

Each of these students understands the opportunity granted to them, and you can feel it in their thank you letters and testimonials. To give you a sense, here’s one from Eduardo Ramos who will graduate in May from Portland State University.

Scholarships are important to students for different reasons. Yet, the common theme is that scholarships open opportunities. Every recipient shares an immense gratitude for this support and access it creates. As a staff, we work to ensure that Community Foundation scholarships are meaningful in this way. This year, the average scholarship award was $2,630.

We’re thankful that the scholarship program is able to serve as a buffer to larger social and economic forces. This is the result of decades of work by our staff, millions in contributions from donors and thousands of hours of volunteerism from scholarship committee members.

Opening scholarship opportunities for local students

Still, the growing need for scholarships means that we are having to turn away larger numbers of exceptional students. Student’s financial needs have been growing faster than our ability to provide significant scholarship awards.

Over the last decade, scholarship applications have increased 60% faster than the number of students receiving awards. As a result, more exceptional students are being turned away, and they are likely supplementing with student loans instead.

We think we can do better. The Community Foundation scholarship program has become what it is today through a collective effort. Now, we are shaping what it can be tomorrow. We know this region values education. We know there are more neighbors who are willing to create scholarships and open opportunities.

Our staff has been working to create a way for those people to get involved. Recently, we established the Community Foundation General Scholarship Fund. This open scholarship fund allows neighbors from across our region, and from every walk of life, to support student’s higher education goals. Together, we can open opportunities for more people pursuing higher education.

By pooling our resources, we can provide greater access to scholarships and opportunity for local students. And while students are the primary concern, our investment is bigger than any one individual. Because when more of our neighbors find prosperity, our community finds prosperity.

In this way, we all have a stake in educating our future generations, so it makes sense that we now have a way to invest in that shared potential.

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