Tuesday, April 24 , 2018, 10:37 pm | Overcast 54º


Foundations Distribute $7.2 Million in Scholarships to Local Students

2,200 high school seniors are awarded money for college from the Santa Barbara Foundation and the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara

Thousands of students and their families gathered in the picturesque gardens at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse on Wednesday to formally accept scholarship awards distributed this year by the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara Foundation.

Despite the tough economic climate, donations have stayed level, said Colette Hadley, executive director of the Scholarship Foundation, and economic conditions improved just enough to bring up the organization’s investment income. The result was a $1 million increase in the amount of scholarship funding available this year, bringing the total to $7.2 million.

Out of more than 3,000 applicants — most of whom are graduating high school seniors from around Santa Barbara County — 2,200 were selected for scholarships. While in years past students were more likely to choose to study just about anything at any number of schools, Hadley said that in today’s economy, people have been more focused on getting the most value for their money.

“What we see is that students and their families are hyper aware of college costs now, even before they apply,” she said. “They’re researching carefully and making choices much more pragmatically. A lot of people are making their choices based solely upon available financial aid packages.”

But programs aren’t the only thing students are looking at more critically. Faced with increasing tuition costs and ever higher amounts of money to repay, more students are looking at their courses of study in terms of potential employment options upon completion.

“It’s really hard, even for college graduates, to get a job right now,” Hadley said. “Students are much more pragmatic about what kinds of jobs they can get after college. There’s not as much of the, ‘I enjoy that, so I’ll study it’ mentality.”

Wednesday’s scene on the courthouse lawn, however, evaporated any thoughts of economic hardship, as the happy, young faces of those intent on a bright future stepped to the podium one by one to announce the scholarships they had received and to give thanks to their families and the foundation for the support.

“It’s so cool that they have foundations and organizations you can go to to get the money you need,” said Ian Fisher, a San Marcos High School senior who received full funding for his first year at SBCC. Initially he was unsure about what to study after high school, but he said his decision to try out for a starring role in his school’s production of Grease gave him a bit more direction.

“I’ve never sung or danced or anything,” he said. “I just went for it and tried out and got the lead role. It really changed my outlook on what to do in college.” Fisher said that after he finishes his general education requirements at SBCC, he plans to transfer to a four-year university to study drama.

From race to economic background to their prospective colleges, the students assembled to collect their awards were diverse. Many were going to city colleges and universities in the area, while others had plans to attend school much farther away.

When asked where she was going, one girl said, “Berkeley, like everyone else.” Her friend Rebecca Neilsen-Robbins, on the other hand, will attend Harvard, with nearly all of her tuition paid for by the university. She has earned a 4.8 GPA as a student at Santa Barbara High School, and is editor of the school newspaper and captain of the softball team.

“I got all but $4,000 paid for by Harvard, and (the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara) helped take care of the rest,” she said, adding that she is considering majoring in English, medicine or education — perhaps all three at once.

While navigating the scholarship application process can be a daunting task, asking for a little help can pay dividends, said Maria Amante, a Dos Pueblos High School senior who will attend UCLA in the fall.

“You have to appreciate the time your mentors are giving you, because they are the key to getting scholarships,” she said, noting that four years spent volunteering, working and interning at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History gave her an opportunity to come under the wing of a scientist who later wrote her recommendation letters. “Stay involved in the community, because the community gives back.”

Noozhawk staff writer Ben Preston can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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