Getting a scholarship can be the deciding factor when struggling students are considering whether to pursue a college education.
The money is obviously helpful in paying the bills. But behind any dollar amount are donors betting their money is going to someone who will work hard and be successful.
Just knowing others believe in them can be just as motivating to students as the financial help.
Earlier this month, more than 200 scholarship recipients at Washington State University Tri-Cities met the donors (or their representatives) at the annual scholarship breakfast.
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The event has grown immensely. Just two years ago, a room at the Richland campus held everyone. Now students, donors and guests pack the Three Rivers Convention Center for a morning that gives students a chance to personally thank those in the community who are helping put them through school.
Without that community support, most of the students at WSU Tri-Cities probably would not be able to pursue their dream of a college education.
Statistics from last school year's class show that the student population at the Tri-City regional campus is unique.
Almost 23 percent of the students at WSU Tri-Cities are Hispanic or members of another minority group. More than half of the students on campus are the first in their families to attend college, and about 40 percent are considered low income. Nearly all the students work in addition to taking classes and many are supporting families.
This year, an estimated $431,000 in scholarships were awarded to students, thanks to the generosity of community organizations, business leaders and individual donors who believe in the value of a college education.
What is even more impressive is that, even in the current economic downturn, the scholarship money has increased. This year, $52,000 more was awarded in scholarships than last year, which is about a 14 percent increase.
The generosity comes at a crucial time as tuition increases are getting to the point that some students may be priced out of a higher education. Last spring, the WSU regents agreed to raise tuition by $1,500, to a total of $11,735 for this school year.
That's 73 percent more than five years ago, when the regional campus welcomed its first freshman class. If the community had not stepped up, many students who had started at WSU Tri-Cities may have had to skip a year to work or may have been so discouraged by the rising costs that they might have given up.
Judging by the comments made at the scholarship breakfast, the students understand how fortunate they are to have the community behind them. They know they have an obligation to their donors to be as successful as they can.
One student said she had tacked her scholarship award letters on her wall so she would be reminded every day that somebody believes in her, driving her to work as hard as possible in her college classes.
It's this kind of testimony that encourages everything the regional campus is trying to accomplish -- giving students a chance to earn a college degree who might otherwise never obtain one.
With the amazing support from the community, these students are well on their way.