Foundation scholarships assist students

Zach Bailey

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$1.2 million available for applicants, nearly $50,000 unclaimed

Zach Bailey / Winonan

With student loans recently dispersed, many students feel the biannual terror of remembering one day they will have to pay them off. With the various costs of college rising, it is slowly becoming harder for students to pay off their student loan debts, making scholarships the godsend some students are in need of.

The Winona State University Foundation receives donations from a variety of alumni, parents, businesses and others who are trying to help lighten the burden of school costs. In this past year alone, 1,945 students have logged in to the Winona State Foundation system, and began the process for applying for various scholarships.

Jennifer Jonsgaard, Winona State’s scholarship coordinator, helps run the behind-the-scenes action that takes place for the Winona State Foundation.

“A majority of the students are eligible for more than one scholarship through the Foundation,” Jonsgaard said. “The longer they’re here, the more eligible they are for different scholarships.”

This year through the Winona State Foundation, there are currently $1.2 million worth of scholarships available, which has grown considerably from the foundation’s 50-year roots.

“The foundation started with only one or two scholarships, and has now grown to over 600 scholarships offering 900 awards, making this our largest area of growth,” Jonsgaard said. “The donors are very understanding that the costs of going to college have risen, and that it’s more and more difficult for students to stay in school because of the debt.”

Though the donors do give their monetary gift to the foundation, it is not the only thing they give to the students.

“[The donors] also create a relationship with the students, and may become not only a mentor to them, but also a networking opportunity as well,” Jonsgaard said.

As far as the applicants for certain scholarships, the number of qualified applicants varies from scholarship to scholarship. Some scholarships are more specific and may only have three to five applicants, whereas others may have 50 to 75.

Though many scholarships are awarded to the most qualified students, each year thousands of dollars worth of scholarships are not given out.

“Last year, around $48,000 worth of scholarships were not given out,” Jonsgaard said. “That was 62 scholarships with zero qualified applicants.”

Jonsgaard stated she is not sure why this is; whether students do not know there are this many opportunities available, or if it might have something to do with a change in the system for applying for scholarships.

“We recently changed the online application process, so that may be part of the reason there were so many scholarships not given out,” Jonsgaard said.

However, for the students who apply, whether they receive scholarships or not, can influence their chances of receiving an education.

“For a majority, if it weren’t for these scholarships they receive, [some students] would not be able to attend school,” Jonsgaard said. “This shows that it is critical to spend time on the applications and fully complete them. Give time to tell your story to the committee.”

Nicholas Oeltjen, a senior at Winona State, is one of the many students that has benefitted from the Foundation’s funds.

“Receiving these scholarships has been extremely helpful in helping me zero out the debt that I have already incurred,” Oeltjen said. “I lived on campus my first two years [at Winona State]. I’m now living off-campus, and thanks to the scholarships I have been able to pay my bills without having to take out many loans.”

Oeltjen first heard about the Winona State Foundation Scholarships through his fiancé, who attended Winona State, and decided to apply for them.

“I apply for as many as I can,” Oeltjen said. “This semester I have applied for 50. I have an entire spreadsheet of ones I have applied for.”

Alison Bettin, a non-traditional senior who is on track to graduate in Dec. 2017, is in the same boat.

“I have a family and a child, along with taking classes. I don’t have time for a full-time job,” Bettin said. “I’ve been able to afford to become a full-time student with help from the scholarships.”

Bettin heard about the Foundation through both email and Winona State’s student parent coordinator. Jonsgaard said how the coordinator would keep reminding Bettin to apply for as many scholarships as possible.

“I’ve applied for a lot of scholarships this semester—around 70,” Bettin said. “I’m a double major studying in two different colleges, the College of Science and Engineering and the College of Liberal Arts, which opens up more possibilities for scholarships compared to average students.”

Bettin attended culinary school in her early 20s, and still has loans to pay off.

“You need all the help you can get when going through school. Being able to go now and not add to my current debt is pretty important,” she said.

Bettin received seven scholarships this past year; three the year before and one the year before that.

“Apply for everything you can,” Bettin advised. “Every bit can help.”

By Zach Bailey