Financially disadvantaged students on path to USF get boost with new scholarship

Officials from the partnering groups, including USF President Judy Genshaft and HCC President Ken Atwater, celebrate the launching of a scholarship fund for financially disadvantaged students.
Officials from the partnering groups, including USF President Judy Genshaft and HCC President Ken Atwater, celebrate the launching of a scholarship fund for financially disadvantaged students.
Published December 1 2017
Updated December 2 2017

This week, financially disadvantaged students in the FUSE program that provides a pathway to the University of South Florida got a boost.

Helios Education Foundation and USAmeriBank Foundation announced that they'll be committing up to $2.5 million to kick-start a scholarship fund for those students in the "graduation pathway" program. The hope is to boost the chances of success for students with financial hurdles.

FUSE students start out at a participating state college, such as Hillsborough Community College and St. Petersburg College, then make the jump with guaranteed admission to a USF institution after a couple of years. Program officials say this offers a more cost-effective and convenient path to a four-year USF degree. (Here's more on the program.)

All of this plays into the goal of increasing the number of people in the Tampa Bay region with a college degree or credential. Tampa Bay's College Access Network, called LEAP, says that increasing that number will give Tampa Bay a more competitive workforce.

Right now, less than half of 25- to 64-year-olds in Tampa Bay have high-quality postsecondary credentials. LEAP wants to make that 60 percent by 2025. And as LEAP works to boost college access, FUSE is a critical component.

Community Foundation of Tampa Bay connected the donors with school officials. The USAmeribank Foundation, based in Clearwater, started the initial fund with $500,000, and Helios contributed $1 million. Helios has also pledged another $1 million through 2-to-1 matching donations.

Here's how it works: Eligible students will get pieces of the scholarship each semester on their way to a degree. They can receive up to $5,500 on that path. The aim is to give up to 100 scholarships in the first year, then keep it up as the fund grows.

"Ensuring that more students – particularly first-generation, minority, and underrepresented students – have a clear pathway and now the financial support to complete a postsecondary degree is an exciting evolution of the FUSE program," said Paul J. Luna, President and CEO of Helios Education Foundation, in a news release.

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