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Op/ed: Scholarships are investments that pay dividends for generations

By   /   Friday, July 11th, 2014  /   Comments Off

Higher education remains transformative for many students and their families. It is truly an investment that will pay dividends for generations.

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By Hugh Ralston

In June, the Ventura County Community Foundation awarded more than $1.3 million in scholarships, the proceeds from nearly $23 million in dedicated scholarship funds entrusted to the organization’s care. With the 2014 awards, VCCF donors have given $11 million to send Ventura County students to college over the past 20 years.

Each fund was established to invest in the next generation. Many are memorial scholarships that carry forward skills and talents denied by an early death or inspired by a life’s work. VCCF’s donors provide scholarships that prepare students for lives as paramedics, poets, scientists, musicians, lawyers and entrepreneurs. They support the children of farmworkers, those emancipated from foster care and kids who are the first in their families to attend college.

“You have no idea what it means to me and my family to say these six words: ‘I get to go to college.’ I get to make something of myself. I get to earn money and support myself with my mind instead of my back,” one of the scholarship recipients said.

Higher education remains transformative for many students and their families. It is truly an investment that will pay dividends for generations.

No matter their career aspirations in a rapidly changing world, the class of 2014 is entering into a different and more fluid workplace. Some predictions say these graduates will hold 12 to 14 jobs before retirement, both because the millennial generation craves variety and because the workplace continues to transform and innovate. Workforce experts predict that 80 percent of the jobs that the millennial generation will undertake have yet to be invented.

As our workforce changes with accelerating force, success requires more education and training than ever before, putting a premium on innovation, portable skills and flexibility. At a time when one in six people in Ventura County accesses the Human Services Agency and its programs — food stamps, welfare, health services and the like — the value of a vibrant private sector and the tools to feed its success are even more important.

A 2013 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Economic Mobility Project suggests college-educated students can withstand the winds of change better than students who never seek post-secondary training or fail to complete it.
Before the Great Recession hit, just over 50 percent of young adults with high school diplomas were employed. Nearly 75 percent of those with bachelor’s degrees were in the workforce.

That gap widened during the unprecedented economic downturn of December 2007 through June 2009, according to the study. Employment fell 16 percent — an extraordinary drop — for those with a high school education, while college degree holders experienced a 7 percent job loss.

VCCF is exploring ways to expand job training. Those efforts include building on a successful partnership to provide forgivable loans for students in the region training to be nurses and investing in other career and technical training to help students transition to the workforce.

VCCF continues to create new scholarships that expand opportunities for college and beyond, often with donors who want to invest in a certain skill or career. Recognizing that a graduate degree is increasingly necessary in the global workplace, VCCF last year used its 25th anniversary to launch a first general graduate school scholarship fund for local students.

One thing is clear as we move forward: Change is both a constant and a spur to creativity and innovation in how we address the challenges ahead. Each new generation takes up its role as we find ways to work across the generations to build stronger families, economies and communities.

That remains a core value of VCCF, because it reflects what sustains Ventura County’s communities. We do better when we work together, and we do our best work when we harness the wheels of progress to dreams of a better future.

Despite the relentless changes in the economy, despite the tensions in politics, despite the hurdles in technology, innovation and creative work, we still are capable of creating a future that remains the envy of the world. That future becomes real with a skilled and educated workforce, comfortable with the tools of technology and ready to lead our companies, institutions and communities.

Come join us in the good work of staking the next generation.

• Hugh Ralston is the president and CEO of the Camarillo-based Ventura County Community Foundation. He will step down from the position later this year, after 11 years at the helm.

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