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.