Western Carolina University will focus its annual Giving Tuesday initiative on raising $250,000 for scholarship assistance for those students who all too often fall through the cracks between merit-based awards for top scholars and income-based aid for those facing the greatest financial hardships.
The university in recent years has increased the number of scholarships available for the highest-achieving students, while loans, grants and some scholarships are available for students who have the most significant financial need.
But, the strain on finances for some students and their families has become increasingly problematic because of lingering effects related to the global COVID-19 pandemic, said Andrew Schmidt, WCU’s director of annual giving.
“The pandemic has tightened the grip on employment and income for many families who were already having difficulty paying the bills,” said Schmidt. “Through Giving Tuesday, we want to help those families who have unmet financial need be able to send their students to college. Not everyone has the same level of financial stability.”
Many of WCU’s students come from lower- or middle-class families, often in situations where both parents are working and bringing home a combined salary just high enough to disqualify them from eligibility for Pell Grants or other need-based aid. For such students, receiving scholarship assistance can be the difference between pursuing a college education or not. “Some students come from families that are one missed paycheck away from financial disaster,” Schmidt said.
In addition, WCU has more meritorious students than it has scholarship dollars available to recognize stellar achievement and having more money for scholarships would allow the university to assist a larger number of deserving students.
“These students could be your neighbor, your nephew, your niece,” Schmidt said. “Giving Tuesday is our chance to help reduce the burden of the cost of higher education for all students, and especially for those who come from the mountain region that this university was founded to serve.”
WCU Chancellor Kelli R. Brown has identified seeking support for general scholarships as the university’s top priority for Giving Tuesday.
NC Promise, the legislative-initiated program that reduces the cost of undergraduate tuition to $500 per semester for students from North Carolina and $2,500 per semester for out-of-state students, is in effect at WCU and two other University of North Carolina System institutions. But students face other expenses beyond the cost of tuition, such as room and board, mandatory fees, extra textbooks and travel, Schmidt said.
“The NC Promise tuition plan is truly a blessing for the Catamount community, but why stop there?” Schmidt said. “Look at it in college basketball terms: NC Promise is a beautiful assist from the state of North Carolina; but, with the additional generosity of our alumni and friends, we can offer current and future WCU students an alley-oop slam dunk when it comes to mitigating the rising cost of higher education.”
Savannah Fauber, a senior in the pre-occupational therapy program majoring in integrated health sciences, said that scholarship support enables her to be able to concentrate on her studies without worrying so much about how to pay for it all.
“Scholarships are important to me personally because I’m a full-time student while also working part time,” Fauber said. “Having that extra support behind me allows me to focus more on school and less on my financial situation. I’ve been so fortunate to be able to receive three scholarships from the Honors College throughout my duration here at Western.”
Scholarship recipient Brian Gutman, a senior biology and chemistry major in the pre-med program, is scheduled to graduate in December with the goal of being accepted into a medical school, a dream made more feasible thanks in part to the financial support of donors.
“For me personally, receiving a scholarship has meant that I can pursue things such as volunteering and extracurriculars that make me more competitive to go to med school. I am very grateful for the scholarships that I have received,” Gutman said.
A nationally observed day of philanthropy held on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and launched in 2012, Giving Tuesday is designed as an antidote of sorts to the consumerism of the big shopping days of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, said Matthew Kemper, associate director of development in Division of Advancement. This year’s Giving Tuesday falls on Nov. 30.
Kemper reminded potential Giving Tuesday donors to check with their places of business to see if those companies provide a corporate matching gift for contributions made by their employees. “Not everyone is aware of this benefit, which can dramatically multiply the impact of a gift,” he said.