Ira Heinzen knew he wanted to attend college but didn’t know how he would pay for it. Since his childhood, Heinzen was encouraged in education. Always a strong student, the Stockton native was focused in school and active in sports, music and the community.
When he returned home to Stockton in 2007, after two years volunteering abroad, he was penniless. To compound matters, family financing was thin as three of his siblings were also attending college.
“My new job at a printing company … ended after a couple of months because of dwindling contracts with the economically stressed [clients],” Heinzen says. “But with the help of friends and family, I was able to start school in the spring of ’08, and I began to work toward transferring to a four-year school.”
San Joaquin Delta College has one of the few electron microscopy programs in the country, so it became a natural fit for the would-be materials scientist. But the recession limited Heinzen’s job options, and he couldn’t afford rent. He calls his situation “crazy” but says he managed to make it through by sleeping on friends’ couches and applying for as much financial assistance as possible. While talking with the school’s scholarship coordinator and academic counselor, Heinzen came across a scholarship endowment by the Bernard Osher Foundation.
“I wouldn’t even have applied had it not been for the encouragement from these great people,” Heinzen says.
The California Community Colleges Scholarship Endowment provided $625,000 in scholarship support to the state’s 110 community colleges this year. The allowances were made possible by a fund created in May 2008 with a $50 million commitment from The Bernard Osher Foundation.
Through this funding, 1,250 scholarships of $500 went to community colleges across the state for the 2009 fall semester, helping students pay for educational expenses such as books, fees and transportation. A second installment of the same amount would be distributed for the spring 2010 semester, providing a total of $1.25 million in scholarships this academic year.
“We’re seeing all-time highs in enrollment,” says Paul Lanning, president and CEO for the Foundation for California Community Colleges. “We have never had more people in our society than we do right now that need assistance affording college. We have the lowest fees of any community college system in the country, … but the costs continue to go up at a time when people have less disposable income.”
More than 70 percent of full-time students in California’s community college system receive some form of financial aid, according to Lanning. At the same time, the average unmet need is more than $1,500 a year.
Ultimately, the foundation hopes to grow the endowment to $100 million by 2012, allowing for the award of 5,000 student scholarships per year, minimum.
“I had never been awarded an academic scholarship before, and I had never thought that I would be,” Heinzen says. “I now tell my fellow classmates to never think for a second that they’re alone.”
Andrew Nelson was raised in the horse-dotted hinterlands of Sacramento, served in the U.S. Air Force in Afghanistan and Iraq, attended community college in Rocklin and is set to attend a prestigious four-year university in hopes of becoming a teacher and education administrator.
Brian King, 49, became chancellor of the Los Rios Community College District in February.