Letters to the Editor

WHATCOM VIEW:Dollars for Scholars benefits students and the community

Want to change a life in our hometown?

Since 2002, Bellingham Dollars for Scholars has worked toward its commitment to provide post-graduate education and training to graduates of Bellingham’s four public high schools. Its mission stems from the belief that education has the power to improve lives and, ultimately, society as a whole. This has resulted in 540 scholarships totaling more than $450,000, made possible through the generosity and shared vision of individuals, businesses and local corporations.

Bellingham’s donors should be extremely proud of the impact that they are having upon our young people. Their gift of education represents hope for a brighter tomorrow — not just for our student recipients, but for our community as well.

So, why are scholarships so important?

At the individual, personal level, Bellingham Dollars for Scholars feels strongly that the right to develop and improve one’s mind should not be limited to a given socioeconomic demographic. We must work to provide opportunities for all of our young people to learn, work and grow in stimulating learning environments. The goal is a playing field where students have equal access to choosing life work that is stimulating, provides a living wage and fulfills a need in society.

Bureau of Labor Statistics data continues to highlight the gap in salary between workers with a high school diploma and those with a college degree: more than $21,000 per year to start and totaling more than $1 million over a lifetime. Vocational and trade schools enhance earning power as well, particularly in our current economy.

There is, in fact, a high cost to not providing educational training beyond high school. Our students represent our collective future. Research shows that educated communities are healthier communities. Educated citizens tend to raise educated families. Our community is enriched by our children gaining the knowledge and skills to become the leaders and supporters of the next generation.

Well-educated communities make better life choices, reducing the strain on social systems and community infrastructure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that education beyond a high school diploma actually extends life expectancy. Educated, healthier communities have fewer low birth weight babies and lower obesity rates. Mothers who have had the chance to learn about proper nutrition, smoking risks and child development tend to raise healthier children.

There is a relationship between crime rates and education levels as well. The number of murders committed drops significantly with an educated citizenry. For every half year of school achieved by a community, the number of murders decreases by 13 percent a year. The U.S. Department of Justice’s figures reveal that 85 percent of inmates lack any education beyond high school. With few skills to earn a living, too many citizens resort to illegal means for sustenance, compromising the safety and welfare of our communities. A disproportionate number of our tax dollars are spent on police, the court system and incarceration. A more highly educated citizenry decreases crime rates and makes for a safer, more desirable place to live.

An educated community is rich in countless ways. According to the latest census figures, higher levels of education mean that more people vote in elections and are involved in governmental issues. Our democracy is stronger with more people involved, and an educated electorate fuels interest in the process. Higher education brings a greater acceptance of the concept of free speech. A willingness to listen to the opinions of other citizens strengthens understanding and can lead to a resolution of conflicts. Strong communities develop when people work together effectively and an educated community helps provide that strength.

Clearly, the power of an education transcends the financial rewards. There are direct, measurable results for all of us as a community. There is a cost. And the cost of an education rises every year.

Bellingham Dollars for Scholars, a program of the Whatcom Community Foundation, invites you to join us for a fund-raising dinner and wine tasting event at the Bellingham Golf and Country Club Sept. 17 from 6 to 10 p.m. Please join us and help to promote the health, education and welfare of our community through the education of our young people. We all stand to benefit.