Professors Pay Students' Tuition

July 8, 2008

Tuition usually goes helps to pay faculty salaries. But at California's Santa Ana College, some professors are paying their students' tuition.

The community college's Opportunity Scholarship will be offered for the first time this fall. The scholarship, for those with unmet financial need and a grade-point average of at least a B, was created by professors. Faculty members, either by themselves or with a colleague, are agreeing to pay for a full year of tuition for a student. Tuition for a California resident is $20 per unit, with full-time students taking at least 12 units a semester.

Professors thought of the idea after noticing that students were dropping out because of financial restraints.

Santa Ana College, in Orange County, serves many low income and immigrant students, said Jeff McMillan, a chemistry instructor and former president of the Academic Senate. Many students are the children of undocumented immigrants, and they are not eligible for assistance from the government, he said. This led McMillan to try to find ways to help students stay in college.

Sara Lundquist, vice president of student services at Santa Ana College, said the problem was first identified to her when she was walking to the coffee cart at the beginning of the fall semester. She was approached by a counselor at Santa Ana, Issac Guzman, who said something needed to be done about the students dropping out because of financial constraints.

Then people wrestling with the problem on their own, like Lundquist and Guzman and McMillan, started working together. Once the project was approved, professors, administrators and departments joined in. An article in the Los Angeles Times led to contributions from people who don't work at the college.

Originally, the scholarship was planned to be an “intimate” program, and was only going to be serving somewhere between 10 to 25 students, Lundquist said. However, with the additional support, there will be close 100 students receiving the scholarship.

The program does more than just provide financial assistance, it creates an atmosphere that “honors and dignifies” students for their hard work and sacrifice, Lundquist said. This program is a way of saying to the student “I just want you to know that you're worth it,” she said.

Although, many of the scholarship recipients are the children of undocumented immigrants, McMillan said it's important not to see this as an immigration issue. He sometimes hears the argument that these students in need of financial aid “shouldn't even be here anyway.” However, he noted that these students typically didn't make the decision to come to the United States and that not helping these very “gifted” students would be a missed opportunity.

Lundquist said the response from students has been gratifying. "I have goosebumps just to tell you the response to the students,” she said.

Alex Flores, a second year student at Santa Ana and newly elected Associated Student Government President, applied for the scholarship. "I think it's a great, like the name says opportunity, for students to pursue their education," he said.

Flores is originally from Mexico, but moved to the United States when he was in second grade. He said he's applying for the scholarship so he can focus on academics. His first semester at Santa Ana he received financial help from some people in the local community. However, last semester, Flores said he had to work and even had to drop two classes so he would be able to work more days of the week.

After he is done with Santa Ana, he plans to go to California State University at Fullerton to study political science. He wants to work in government some day, he said.

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