NORFOLK, Neb. – Many students have a dream of attending college and achieving a good paying job, but finances are often a significant roadblock. Financial aid is a critical means to make college affordable, giving a boost to these students’ morale allowing them to stay on their educational journey as they work for a better future for themselves and their families.
At Northeast Community College, hundreds of students receive financial assistance each year. In the 2019-2020 academic year, the Northeast Foundation awarded 489 scholarships in the amount of $413,671, with an average award of $846. However, for those who received financial assistance, there were another approximately 300 students whose applications went unfilled.
Dr. Tracy Kruse, vice president of development and external affairs, said ensuring financial assistance allows students an opportunity to achieve success in college while supporting those who want to graduate with a degree or credential and become productive members of the workforce.
“Approximately 80% of our students apply for financial aid and about 70% of them receive financial assistance. Unfortunately, we’re not able to assist everyone,” Kruse said. “Many of our students have to work to make higher education possible and, we don’t even know the true extent of the number of students who don’t enroll at Northeast because they lack financial support. So, our goal is to help those students.”
Of the degree-seeking students attending Northeast in the last academic year, 46% were first generation (students who come from families where neither parent/guardian earned a four-year degree), 39% applied for student loans, 81% were employed while taking classes, and 21% were employed full-time while taking classes.
“With the extra credits and costs of dual degrees, my scholarship helped me complete my coursework without adding financial stress,” said Shay Nelson, of Spencer, who was awarded a diesel technology scholarship. “I am thankful for the continued support of the Northeast Community College Foundation members for the scholarships that have been offered.”
Early Childhood Education student Mandi Fernau, Carroll, is a wife, mother of three and is employed full-time as a paraprofessional in a pre-school setting. She has been taking online classes at Northeast for the past two-years and plans to transfer to the University of Nebraska-Kearney this fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree to become a teacher.
She said she is grateful to receive Northeast’s Distance Learning/Library Technical Assistance Scholarship and Paul R. Rohrke Scholarship.
“They have both helped me so much. These scholarships have lifted some of the stress of the financial burden that any college student would have, especially when, like me, they have a husband, a family, and a full-time job – they help even more,” Fernau said. “These scholarships have not been taken for granted and I will be forever grateful.”
In late December, Northeast Community College received its largest financial donation ever – a $15 million unrestricted gift from MacKenzie Scott. It was part of $4.1 billion the author and philanthropist contributed to 384 organizations across all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C. The Scott gift, along with the generosity of the College’s regular donors, will ensure that Northeast students have the opportunity to attend college for generations to come.
Dr. Leah Barrett, Northeast president, said the College wants the gift to last as long as it possibly can. She said Scott is a woman who believes in Northeast Community College and its leadership team.
“She is a woman who wants us to use the donation to support economic mobility for our 20-county region,” Barrett said. “She gave this gift to leverage more gifts and to make sure that we’re serving more students and reaching out to those who have yet to make the decision that higher education is what they can pursue to help gain an opportunity, make a difference for their families, earn better wages, and contribute to the incredible nature of Northeast Community College and the region that Northeast serves.”
Kruse said the College is working to ensure the dollars are used wisely. She said a team has been created to develop strategies to maximize Scott’s investment in Northeast Community College.
“Immediately after receiving the gift, we met with our investment manager to determine how to best invest the funds to get the best return available,” Kruse said. “Since that time, we have established a Foundation board-directed endowment which has allowed us to invest the funds as we prepare to identify scholarship and student success initiative opportunities.”
Long term, Kruse said the team will review current scholarships, how they are being utilized and identify where there may be gaps to allow the Scott gift to be used to assist more students. The group is working on putting a funding solution in place that will allow the College to offer scholarships beginning this fall.
In addition, Barrett and Kruse have engaged with representatives of other colleges and universities across the nation that are also recipients of Scott’s philanthropy. The group plans to meet regularly to discuss ways to leverage the gifts to assist more students.
Barrett said, “These are other institutions that are in similar situations to us either in rural or urban settings working in areas to provide opportunities for social mobility, especially for first generation college students, underrepresented students and immigrant families. We think there are great opportunities to work together to leverage these funds for additional grant opportunities and provide us a network of people to collaborate with to do this important work.”
Each spring, Northeast Community College celebrates the generosity of all of its benefactors who invest in the institution’s students through their contributions. The annual Scholarship Luncheon is a time for donors and students to personally meet and share their experiences with one another. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the event in 2020; however, this year’s celebration was held in a virtual format. This included private Zoom sessions between the contributors and students in lieu of the luncheon event.
The public also has the opportunity to learn more about how scholarship opportunities have allowed students to excel at Northeast. The College’s Foundation Office has launched a new webpage that features elements of the virtual luncheon. The public may visit the Northeast website at northeast.edu/giving/foundation-scholarships/luncheon to view short video presentations of Barrett and Kruse and of students speaking of their successes at Northeast, thanks in part to the patrons who contributed to their education.
Kruse said it is the goal of Northeast Community College to allow every person in the institution’s 20-county service area the opportunity to attend college if they have a desire.
“We want to remove barriers, including finances, so that everyone has an opportunity to attend college. We can use these foundation dollars to really help those traditionally underserved students who never thought higher education was a possibility.”
Nelson, who is pursuing a diesel technology - agriculture degree and a diploma in accounting, is appreciative of the Northeast foundation scholarships and donors’ generosity. He said the Diesel Technology Scholarship has allowed him to successfully complete his educational journey.
“With the scholarship being offered halfway through my college career, I received much appreciated funds to help me with my expenses during my last year of schooling,” he said. “By completing both my degrees, I am more confident in my ability to operate my own business in the future knowing both the technical and financial side of the business. Northeast Community College, the faculty and the foundation scholarships have all been such great contributors in the successful completion of my dual college degrees.”
Dr. Tracy Kruse, vice president of development and external affairs at Northeast Community College, (left) listens to Dr. Leah Barrett, college president, in an image from a video from the institution’s annual Scholarship Luncheon. The annual event, which is held on the Norfolk campus to express appreciation to scholarship benefactors, was moved to a virtual format this year.