Students receiving awards from the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara

Students receiving awards from the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara

by Lois Mitchell and Catherine Brozowski

On December 4, 2015, Orfalea Foundation President Lois Mitchell and Vice President Catherine Brozowski addressed the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara’s Community Leaders Luncheon.  Following are excerpts from their address:

We have been privileged to work with the Orfalea Foundation for a very long time. It has been a true gift to work closely with the Orfalea family and advance their generosity. As many of you are aware, the Orfalea Foundation is intentionally sunsetting in a couple of weeks. During these last months we have been sharing our learnings and experience with others, which is why we are speaking here today.

The Orfalea Foundation and the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara have also worked together for a long time. Our shared interests are obvious – we want to help young people embrace opportunity and pursue their full potential.

We appreciate the Scholarship Foundation’s comprehensive tactics: They don’t just process applications; they offer solutions. Their advice ensures recipients’ financial aid eligibility is not compromised. They are committed to helping a student receive all the assistance to which he or she is entitled.

VCCF 2012 Scholarship Group AMuch of our Scholarship Foundation investment concentrated on strengthening and increasing capacity. This included tracking whether students went off to college, but also understanding obstacles and challenges for completing to graduation. Based on this knowledge, we invested in support to students while in college.

Scholarships do not serve only students, but families and communities as well.

By targeting low income areas, under-appreciated community servants, and those disadvantaged by circumstance, we bring to fruition our dream to strengthen communities by empowering individuals. Therefore we focused on expanding outreach, which revealed what we call the “unexpected student.” There are many students who do not expect to attend college and learn too late how to qualify for assistance. By connecting with them before high school, we can provide guidance on classes to take, and assist with navigation along the way. By reaching families in underserved neighborhoods, especially in North County, we can show them a realistic pathway to college. With increased understanding of the process, many more students become eligible to alter their life trajectory.

Historically, the Orfalea Foundation also considered needs of the community when establishing specific scholarships. We’ve awarded to students whose parents are employed as teachers, nurses, police, sheriff, firefighters, and preschool caregivers, as well as students planning a career in all of those fields. We set up scholarships for single parent students, as well as dependents of single parents. Our selection criteria include foster youth, non-traditional learners, children of farm workers, and those planning a career in sustainable agriculture, as well as students working through high school, and those planning careers in social work, counselling, or with a parent employed at a nonprofit agency.

The Orfalea Foundation has set aside a final legacy gift of $900,000 to be awarded over the next three years to help our scholarship recipients complete their degrees. The Scholarship Foundation’s first board president Ruth Nadel recalled a “Let’s see what we can dream” attitude within the organization.  We applaud that this attitude is still prevalent today in the Foundation’s openness and receptivity to new ideas.

Orfalea1Education and Scholarships have been essential components of our giving portfolio.  We gifted over 4,000 scholarships over the last 15 years, with 2,231 awards given through the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara (SFSB).

One area that makes us particularly proud is the support for undocumented AB540 students.  We were early supporters of these awards, and proudly provided resources that opened up the dialogue about undocumented students, and helped to build systems to support their needs.  The joint work done by Adsum and SFSB has been vital to address the unique issues of undocumented students, allowing them the same chance to pursue their dreams in education and in their lives.  We hope this work continues and that ultimately these students have the same access to scholarships in the future.

Another vital component of our approach is evaluation, because we need to understand if our scholarship awards make a difference.

Scholarships are not just about access, but also completion.

We know a scholarship can get students to college, but does it get them through college? We extend our greatest compliments and gratitude to Vicki Wedmore for tirelessly supporting our requests for more information and more data.

We learned a lot together, and want to share the outcomes because they relate to all of our collective giving. These numbers are specific to our scholarship pool, but they are aligned with the results for the entire Scholarship Foundation portfolio.

When we look at students attending traditional 4-year colleges, 85% of Orfalea recipients complete their degree, compared to 48% nationally.

That is powerful, and was a significant reinforcement for continuing to award large multi-year grants.  It’s also worth noting that we asked the Scholarship Foundation to grant awards to our students for up to 5 years.  Students no longer graduate in the traditional 4-year timespan, and we wanted our awards to reflect the real needs of students.  If it takes them 5 years to graduate, then we needed to hear that and adapt our awards.  It might be something for you to consider with your students as well.

A second powerful statistic is that 79% of Community College students with an Orfalea scholarship transfer or are on track to transfer, compared to 37% nationally.  

Let us reiterate: These students transfer at more than double the national average.  That is extraordinary. We know that Santa Barbara has exceptional resources like Get Focused, Stay Focused. Santa Barbara City College has Running Start and SPARC. Allan Hancock Community College has Bridges to the Baccalaureate, and Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara has its own ACHIEVE program. But even with these resources, our Board felt 100% clear that our awards make a difference.

So to re-cap: 85% of our students at 4-year colleges graduate, and 79% at Community College graduate or transfer.  But what about the remaining 15% who didn’t graduate from a 4-year college, or the 21% who didn’t complete community college?

We learned that there were five variables that interfered with completing college:

  1. Life Circumstances got in the way.  They have kids and need to balance family life – this is the single mom of two kids who couldn’t balance school and financial obligations of family
  2. They had success in their careers without a degree – this is the student who built a surfboard company that is having tremendous success.
  3. Some weren’t focused on school, but may be looking to return, – this is the student who left to join the military 
  4. Some students said college was not for them.
  5. Some students needed to have a job for daily living expenses and/or couldn’t afford cost of tuition.


We also sought qualitative feedback from students.  85.2% of our scholarship recipients stated that our award had a “huge” or “very significant” impact on them.  14.2% said the award was “helpful and had a positive impact.”  Direct quotes from students included “Knowing they believed in me gave me confidence,” “This scholarship was critical to achieving my academic goals,” and “The scholarship decreased the financial burden on my family.”

What else did we learn? Our students end up with a lot less debt:

  • In Santa Barbara County, 32% of students have debt when they graduate college
  • In California, that total is 55% of students, and nationally it is 69%.
  • In Santa Barbara, students have $12,570 average debt.
  • In California, average debt is $21,000, and nationally it is $29,000.
  • So, our students have 60% less debt than students nationally.

When SB students complete their degrees, they are in a better place to start work and life without the same amount of debt and financial obligation. We should, and do, feel amazing about that.

Success stems not from what any of us is doing, but from what ALL of us are doing.

We know each of you believes strongly in the concept of scholarships and supports the great work of the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara.  Santa Barbara’s outstanding resources, combined with the diversity of donor vision, keeps the Scholarship Foundation growing, adapting and improving. We hope you can take something from our learnings to carry forward in your own efforts. We sunset confident that our approach made a difference and that you will continue to inspire the awe and joy of these student as they set out to change the world.

These gifts matter.  These gifts change lives.  Our scholarship portfolio has been a critical component of our work.  We’ve granted $16.5 million towards providing student financial aid.  Alas, our foundation is sunsetting, so this is all that we can do.  We hope you will continue this work.  There are few partners that are as competent as Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara.  Please work with them to fulfill our collective dreams.

No executives were harmed in the crafting of this scholarship strategy.

Lois Mitchell and Catherine Brozowski. No executives were harmed in the crafting of this scholarship strategy.

About Whole Community

Along with our work in early childhood education, school food reform, and youth development, the Orfalea Foundation’s investments in education and learning also include university partnerships, generous scholarship awards, collective impact initiatives, and public enrichment opportunities. READ MORE

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