The Connestee Falls Student Scholarship Program has kicked off its 32 year of raising funds for scholarships for Transylvania County students.
Last year the program divided $106,500 equally among Blue Ridge Community College, Bre-vard College and Transylvania County Schools for this year’s scholarships. The program’s volunteers hope to set another fundraising record in 2019 in order to provide more scholarships for more students.
Last year the program also received an unexpected and most welcome boost in the form of a gift of more than $72,000.
This remarkable do-nation came from the estate of Paul C. Phillips through the generosity of his daughter, Connestee resident Robin Phillips, and her spouse, Sue Green. It was used to establish an endowment for the benefit of future Transylvania County students. The endowment is being managed by a professional fund management company in Asheville which specializes in overseeing funds for nonprofit organizations. Since that gift was announced at the Scholarship Program Celebration of Education Gala last September, more gifts have been donated to the endowment.
In recognition of the Scholarship Program’s work, on April 30 the program was presented with the Governor’s Award for Volunteer Service. The ceremony took place in the Rogow Room of the Transylvania County Library, and the three education leaders from Transylvania County who nominated the Program for the Governor’s Award each spoke about the program’s impact on their students’ lives.
Superintendent of Transylvania County Schools Jeff McDaris noted that some of the greatest support for the county schools comes from community partners, and the scholarship program serves as a model for other communities as it helps students go on to become leaders in Transylvania County, around the state and across the nation.
Blue Ridge Community College President Dr. Laura Leatherwood expressed the thanks of the college’s students and faculty for the gifts from the scholarship program which total more than $285,000.
Brevard College President David Joyce acknowledged the im-portance of the partnership between the college and the scholarship program and mentioned that there are now more than 50 students from Transylvania County at Brevard College, many of whom have received Connestee scholarships over the years.
The generosity of Connestee residents and local businesses could not come at a more important moment. An article in the Aug. 20, 2018, edition of Bloomberg News by Danielle Booth noted that, in the 10-year period from 2007 to 2017 when the consumer price index rose by 21 percent, college tuition costs jumped 63 percent, school housing rose by 51 percent, and the price of textbooks went up 88 percent.
According to Booth, “These troubling growth rates wipe away any mystery behind today’s staggering levels of student loan debt, which have almost tripled from the 2007 starting point of $545 billion.” Another Blomberg article made the point that the deepening student debt crisis is bad news for the broader economy, as well as for students and recent graduates.
According to the article in the Oct. 17, 2018, edition of Bloomberg, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told Congress last year that the delinquencies that come with the worsening debt crisis “may have a significant negative impact on the broader economy.”
In other words, rising student debt has the potential to significantly and adversely affect us all.
In Transylvania County, the importance of student financial aid cannot be overstated. According to Blue Ridge Community College’s “Curriculum Enrollment Summary, Fall 2017,” only 35 percent of the student population can afford to attend college on a full-time basis. Twenty percent of the students work full-time, 35 percent work part-time, and 26 percent are seeking employment – a total of 81 percent who are working or seeking work.
McDaris, in his report to the Transylvania County Board of Education in April, 2018, noted that although Transylvania County is relatively wealthy in terms of per capita income, that wealth seems to have no correlation to the rate of child poverty which stood at 29.6 percent last year. The poverty rate continues into adulthood for many.
In 2017, ACCESSNC estimated that 15.2 percent of the population of the county was living below the poverty level. These sobering statistics and analyses underscore the importance of the generosity of the donors and the dedication of the volunteers who are involved in so many roles with the scholarship program. McDaris has opined that a community is defined by its investment in families and schools; clearly the hard work and thousands of dollars distributed in scholarship funds defines the Transylvania County community as one of good will and community spirit.