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Parents: Check Your Credit Union Before Your Child Applies to College

Parents: Check Your Credit Union Before Your Child Applies to College

Credit unions often have valuable scholarship opportunities for your child!

With college costs on the rise, parents are looking for numerous avenues to fund their child’s education. Although hundreds of credit unions offer private student lending, many also offer scholarship opportunities to ease the burden of escalating prices.

Each credit union that offers a scholarship program has its own unique approach to the application, qualification and acceptance program, so executives urge parents and students to contact their credit union as soon as possible to inquire about overall requirements and deadlines ahead of time.

Scholarships for College Bound High School Seniors

Your child’s first taste of college shouldn’t be bogged down with financial anxiety. Luckily, credit unions like Argent Federal Credit Union ($190 million, Chesterfield, VA) offer an opportunity for two high school credit union members to earn a $2,500 scholarship if they are enrolled in a two or four year college or university for the upcoming academic year.

Rose Gilliam, President/CEO sees this opportunity as a way to not only honor the student member but also salute a former employee for which the scholarship was named. “The Ruby A. Robinson Scholarship program is named after a beloved employee, Ruby Robinson,” Gilliam says. “Ruby worked at the credit union for 30 years and when she retired she told our former CEO that she wanted a scholarship program to be created for our college bound members.”

Gilliam says that Ruby has seen many of the younger members grow from infants into young adults and attends every annual meeting when the scholarship awards are presented. “The students like to have their picture taken with her and she always wants to make sure she is present at the meeting.”

“All the students express their appreciation at the meeting,” Gilliam adds. “We’ll often receive a personal note from the student thanking us for recognizing them. We'll post the notes in the break room so staff can read them.”

Argent members are notified through numerous channels regarding upcoming scholarship opportunities and must complete an application packet along with an essay. Argent has a scholarship review committee comprised of employees and board members who review applications and select the winners. “We black out the student’s name during the review process so there is no bias,” Gilliam says.

Gilliam notes that in addition to the credit union funded scholarship, she always alerts her members to the Richmond Chapter of Credit Unions, which offers two $1,500 scholarships for college, technical, or trade school enrollment.

Another opportunity for high school seniors can be found at Point Breeze Credit Union ($700 million, Hunt Valley, MD). High school student members who plan to attend a two or four year college or university are eligible to apply for one of ten $1,500 scholarships. The application process includes an essay and the student must present two letters of recommendation (one academic, one personal). An independent committee, comprised of other credit unions representatives within the Maryland & DC Credit Union Foundation, judges the applications.

Like Argent, Point Breeze also promotes an independent credit union foundation scholarship program. The Maryland & DC Credit Union Foundation offers ten $1,000 essay-based scholarships and one $1,000 video-based scholarship to any college bound credit union member in the Maryland and D.C. area.

Genie Briggs, VP/Marketing and Business Development, says that both scholarships can be helpful to the financially struggling student. “Even though it’s only $1,500, any amount can help when faced with inflated college costs. We try to promote the opportunities any way we can, in our newsletter, through e-news blasts, branch posters and in the schools.”

Credit Union Scholarships for College Students

In addition to the high school senior, credit unions offer scholarship money for those already attending a two or four year college or university. Virginia Credit Union ($2.2 billion, Richmond, VA) has a program that provides cash for rising college freshman, sophomore, junior or senior students who will be taking at least nine credit hours per semester.

“Virginia Credit Union has a scholarship program to recognize outstanding student members each year,” says Glenn Birch, Public and Media Relations Director. “We award 25 scholarships of $2,500 to student members and since the program began in 1991, VACU has provided $686,000 in scholarships to student members.”

Birch explains that VACU’s program was created to honor Dot Hall, the president of the credit union at the time, in an effort to help student members of the credit union. The program is now known as the Dorothy J. Hall Memorial Scholarship program. 

Applicants must be a member of the credit union, submit an essay and have a minimum GPA of 3.0 in order to be considered. “Applicants are evaluated on community service and extra-curricular activities; hours devoted to work to help with the cost of education; and an essay,” Birch says. “Because VACU believes that financial education is an important factor in helping to enhance members’ financial well-being, the essay asks the student how they learned to manage their money and credit responsibly, and what role the credit union has played. Students are asked to tell us about any challenges that make the scholarship especially important to them.”

Another credit union that provides scholarships to enrolled college students is Unitus Community Credit Union ($902 million, Portland OR), which awards eleven $1,000 scholarships. The student must be a member of the credit union for at least one year in order to be eligible to apply, says Laurie Kresl, VP/Planning & Business Development.

“Students complete an application and write an essay--each year we have a different essay topic,” she says. “We change the topics around in order to gain more information from the students and keep the application process fresh.” Unitus awards scholarship money to four high school seniors, four college undergraduate students and two graduate students. Additionally the credit union also has one community involvement scholarship for graduating high school seniors, undergraduate students and/or graduate students based on community service and volunteer work.

Two professors from a local Portland state university conduct the review process, pouring through each application in order to render a decision. “We create a criteria guideline so the professors know what we are looking for and use it to guide them in their decision making,” Kresl says.

Credit Union Scholarships for Community Inspired Non Members

In the spirit of giving and to recognize outstanding community enthusiasts, State Employees Credit Union ($24 billion, Raleigh, NC) offers a “People Helping People” $10,000 scholarship opportunity to a high school senior who attends one of the 350 traditional North Carolina high schools. Additionally, the program also provides two $5,000 scholarships for students attending each of the 58 community colleges in North Carolina.

“Selection is made completely at the school level and the winner does not have to be a member of SECU,” says Leigh Brady, CUDE, SVP/Education Services. “The student must have a GPA of 2.5, however our concentration is on the student who has gone out of his or her way to help or give back to the community.”

Brady explains that the program was created in the spirit of “People Helping People” so recipients should be able to demonstrate their passion and dedication to community service.

“We give out approximately $4 million in scholarship money each year,” Brady says. “The money comes from our internal Foundation, which is funded by our members.” She adds that since the program’s inception in 2004, the credit union has provided $32 million in scholarships to North Carolina students.

She explains that credit union members have always had to pay a $1.00 monthly checking account maintenance fee. “In 2004 the board voted to instead provide members with an option to donate that money to the Foundation in order to give back to the community. Although the member can opt out of the donation, approximately 99% of our checking account members, nearly 900,000, prefer to donate.”

In addition to its Foundation driven scholarship program, the credit union has partnered with two additional organizations--the North Carolina Industrial Commission in support of Kids’ Chance of North Carolina, Inc. and the North Carolina National Guard Association’s Educational Foundation. Both programs provide scholarship money to the children of public service employees or a soldier or airman who were injured or killed in the line of duty.

Brady shares one of many thank you notes from past recipient, Rani Patel:

It was not only a surprise but also a great honor to receive the "People Helping People" Scholarship! The support and generosity of the SECU Foundation has allowed me to follow my dreams and explore my hidden passions. Thanks to the scholarship, I will be pursuing a Bachelor's degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this fall where I plan on studying Public Health with a focus in Nutrition. To quote my essay for this scholarship, "As I continue to submerge myself in academic and extracurricular activities throughout college, it is with the philosophy 'People Helping People' that I have and will continue to step forward to make a difference in the world we live in today." Thanks again, SECU, for believing in me!

Looking for scholarship opportunities for your rising senior or already in college but need additional funding? Find a credit union and inquire about scholarship opportunities today.

By Gina Ragusa
Published May 4, 2012
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