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Foundation’s scholarship program continues to help area students

What is the driving force behind local scholarships that help area students afford and graduate from college? It’s the 40 scholarship funds created by a mix of individuals, couples, families, clubs and schools, held and managed by the Community Foundation for Oceana County (CFOC). Through 2019, these generous donors helped 158 area students avoid added student debt, by awarding $230,638 in scholarship support.

“It’s an investment in their potential, and in the impact they can have in their communities,” according to CFOC Executive Director Tammy Carey. 60% of these awards went to graduating seniors, 40% to college students and 22% overall to Hispanic students.

“As the world of higher education continues to change, we ask ourselves how we can make our scholarship program more impactful for students and benefit our County,” says Foundation chair Randy Wagner, “We’re undertaking an in-depth study of our current program, including asking for feedback across 10 years of scholarship recipients, while also learning about other new support programs initiated by our Foundation peers across Michigan.”  New approaches under consideration include support for returning adult learners to complete their degree, increasing skilled trade degrees and certificates, and a Come Home program, to bring talented young adults back to the area by reducing student loan debt.

The Foundation made an added investment in post-secondary education success in 2012 when it led the effort to develop and serve as the fiscal sponsor for the Oceana College Access Network (Oceana CAN!). Oceana CAN! has raised awareness of the need for education & training beyond high school to meet today’s workforce demands. “Employers increasingly want workers with at least some education beyond high school, be it a two or four-year degree or certificate in a trade,” said Carey. Network partners have aided the overall effort by increasing opportunities for students to participate in campus tours, job shadows, mentoring, sponsoring College Application Day/Decision Day and helping students to connect with financial supports. College enrollment rates have risen from 55% to 66% since 2012, however, completion rates remain stubbornly low at 33%.

“Our very first fund in 1989 was a scholarship fund,” added Carey. “Helping our kids, our future, is a priority for many of our donors. Maybe it is small town culture, but this community is very willing to roll up its sleeves and create positive community change. Our donors are making a difference in student potential every day.”

New funds are often added to the program, including two so far in 2019. One of these is the Richard and Carole Tompkins Scholarship Fund, in memory of Richard Tompkins who passed away in 2015.  “Rich” served a long career as a teacher and coach, and was very active in athletics and other community events.  This scholarship benefits Oceana students attending or planning to attend Central Michigan or Michigan State University.

The late Mereta Spitler left an estate gift to Hart Public Schools to establish a scholarship fund in memory of her parents, Seth J Spitler and Margaret Schaner Spitler. Mereta’s parents grew up in Hart and as a family they spent many weekends and summers enjoying the area. Her estate also added a significant gift to the Mereta Ann Spitler Scholarship Fund, benefiting Hart grads planning to attend Michigan State University.

For more information about making a gift, creating a named fund at the Foundation, or to learn more about new scholarship programs under consideration, call Executive Director Tammy Carey at 231-861-8335. To see the full list of 2019 scholarship recipients visit here.