March 6, 2009 in City

Falling endowments hurt students on scholarships

By The Spokesman-Review
 
How to help
For information or to contribute, visit www.saveourscholarships.net.

Jessica Hay has no illusions about where she would be were it not for the scholarships she is receiving while attending Eastern Washington University.

“I would be working dead-end job after dead-end job while struggling toward a degree, maybe in 10 or 12 years,” said Hay.

Raised on a ranch in Springdale, Wash., the 19-year-old sophomore aspires to broaden her horizons – perhaps with a career in international business, marketing or advertising.

Right now, Hay’s future is in doubt.

The economic downturn that is forcing cuts in every state budget will almost certainly result in an increase in tuition at Washington’s public universities. Even before the recession, tuition has gone up 5 percent each of the last two years.

Even worse for students like Hay, university endowments nationwide have lost an average of 28 percent of their value in the last six months of 2008.

From July 1 to Dec. 31, the University of Washington endowment dropped about 26 percent, from $2.16 billion to $1.6 billion; Washington State University’s endowment lost 22 percent, from $324.2 million to $252.6 million; and EWU’s dropped about 22 percent, from $12.3 million to $9.6 million.

The losses, which follow smaller declines during the previous six months, will result in less money and fewer scholarships for students next year.

While UW and WSU officials said their scholarships come from various funding sources and it is too early to say just how they will be affected, EWU officials know exactly how bad it will be for some students.

Without help from donors, scholarships will be cut 80 percent next school year, from about 500 scholarships valued at $500,000 to about 100 valued at $100,000, said Mike Westfall, vice president for advancement and executive director of the EWU Foundation.

That’s just not acceptable, Westfall said.

“How many dreams will be delayed?” he asked. “How many dreams will be short-circuited completely because of lack of funding?”

Most EWU students are the first generation of their families to go to college, Westfall said. The No. 1 deterrent to pursuing an academic degree is financial. When students take time off from school to earn wages, they often don’t go back.

So Westfall sat down with other EWU officials to plan a strategy.

“We had two choices,” he said, “do nothing or shine a light on this issue and seek much-needed support from alumni and the community.”

The result is an unusual Web-based fund-raising drive at www.saveourscholarships.net. All donations will go directly to scholarships, Westfall said. EWU officials hope to raise as much money as possible toward eliminating the $400,000 gap by April 15, which is a two-week extension of the scholarship deadline.

“Without a scholarship, I would not be in college,” said Hay who receives the Lawrence and Vera Laughbon Scholarship from Eastern. She also gets an academic competitiveness grant from EWU, as well as a Washington Award for Vocational Excellence and an American Legion oratorical award.

She works part-time in the university recreation center and is captain of the girl’s rugby team while maintaining a 3.7 grade point average.

“I want people to realize that kids searching for scholarships are the ones that really need them,” Hay said. “It’s going to kids who really appreciate it.”

Contact Kevin Graman at kevingr@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5433.

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