Friday, May 23, 2008

Community College Professors Fund Scholarships for Low-Income Students

Faculty members at Santa Ana College are making voluntary out-of-pocket contributions to fund a scholarship program for students with severe economic need, the Los Angeles Times reports:

Chemistry professor Jeff McMillan is sick of seeing otherwise capable students drop his courses because it costs too much to go to school.

So much so that he is opening his wallet.

McMillan and about a dozen other faculty and staff members at Santa Ana College have started a scholarship fund that they hope will make it easier for low-income students to afford their classes.Starting this fall, each will fund a student's course fees for a year -- about $600 for a full-time schedule. Professors say the donation comes with the satisfaction of knowing the student their money is helping.

"I won't be just some mysterious person writing a check," said McMillan, who is sharing sponsorship of a student with another professor.

The Opportunity Scholarship will be awarded to students with extreme financial need. Instructors will recommend students who have great potential but are struggling to pay for school. Each student will be paired with one of the faculty sponsors, who will serve as an informal mentor.

"Imagine one of your professors feeling so strongly about you that they're willing to fund your college education," said Sara Lundquist, the college's vice president of student services.

Most likely to benefit will be students who are not citizens and thus are not eligible for federal student aid or a state program that waives fees for low-income community college students.

At the campus -- in the densely populated, impoverished core of Santa Ana -- more than 60% of students receive financial aid. But for the 5% of students whom the college says are immigrants or out-of-state residents, the only way to subsidize their education is with highly competitive, private scholarships.

"Six hundred dollars to most people may not seem like a lot, but for a student who doesn't have any extra income to spend, this may be the difference between going to school or not," said Kalman Chany, president of Campus Consultants Inc., a New York company that helps students find need-based aid from colleges and the government.

Chany said he had not heard of any college having a program like Santa Ana's.

Maximina Guzman, student government president and a former student of McMillan, plans to apply for the scholarship.

Because she is not a citizen -- she and her parents came to the United States illegally when she was 3 -- she is not eligible for financial aid. The biology student has paid her own way, working full time at a hotel gift shop and moonlighting as a telemarketer.

Guzman said her grades have suffered because she had to balance homework, two jobs and family obligations. She usually finds time to study only between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m.

If she is awarded a scholarship, she could cut down on weekend work hours, she said.

"It's frustrating to know that I could get better grades if I didn't have to work all the time," she said.

Such competing priorities affect many low-income students, especially Latinos -- about half of the 25,000 students at Santa Ana College. Many of their parents did not go to college, and the pressure to work rather than go to school is strong, students said.
I applaud the professors for these efforts. School and work conflicts are one of the biggest complaints I hear among my students, especially when they're having academic difficulties.