Burleson Higher Education Opportunity Fund Celebrates 10 Years of Student Scholarships
Fund has awarded nearly $1 million in 737 student scholarships
Almost 10 years ago, Mayor Ken Shetter, then Assistant BISD Superintendent Richard Crummel and School Board President Ronnie Johnson, along with a small group of civic and business leaders, met in an afternoon brainstorming session to incubate ideas and initiatives to enhance the quality of life for families and children in the city of Burleson. Assistant Superintendent, Richard Crummel posited the question, “What might happen if we could provide more Burleson students the opportunity for a college education?” From a single idea, the concept of the Burleson Higher Education Opportunity Fund was born.
Mayor Shetter, the council and city staff went immediately to work developing plans for community college facilities and programming in Burleson and designing funding mechanisms to ensure student success. As part of the funding plan, the city, school district and leaders of the business community joined forces to form a 501(c)(3), The Burleson Higher Education Opportunity Fund, to raise scholarship dollars to provide 100 percent freshman tuition for students signing up to attend the Hill College Campus in Burleson. To date the fund has awarded 737 student scholarships totaling $942,204.
A strong network of supportive counselors from Burleson ISD and Hill College assure the student’s success from the initial application process to the end of second year programming at Hill College’s Burleson Center. The statistical analysis of retention rates and GPA of BOF students reveals that BOF scholars retain from freshman to sophomore year at 79 percent, a full 19 points higher than the state average. Further, BOF scholars achieve at an average GPA of 2.93, outpacing the state average of 2.29. An additional unintended consequence of the enhanced focus on preparing students for the college application process is that the numbers of college bound students to all institutions is increasing for Burleson seniors. Burleson children now understand, from the moment they enter the kindergarten classroom, that college is indeed a possibility for each one of them.
As the fund raising efforts have matured over the past decade, the city’s contribution of $60,000 per year from Type A Economic Development Corporation revenues has remained a constant reminder of the economic development impact of a highly-educated workforce.
Under current Burleson ISD Superintendent Dr. Bret Jimerson’s leadership, BISD’s commitment of a counselor to recruit and support high school seniors has been enhanced to include an initiative for district employee payroll deduction which involves donors at all levels of the district’s professional staff. In the first year of employing the voluntary payroll deduction, the Opportunity Fund received over $20,000 to help community scholars.
The board organizes one annual fund raising event, The Breakfast of Champions, sponsored by local foundations, the business community, civic leaders and citizens, to raise additional funding to support the growing need. In 2015, the breakfast raised over $260,000. The effort is supported now by over 300 donors annually who contribute sponsorships as large as $25,000. From its very conservative beginnings, with only 24 freshman scholarship recipients, the program has grown to include the award of second year funding and book stipends for deserving second year college students. For the 2016-17 academic school year, the board has approved the largest award of 151 first and second year scholarships.
Due to the growth of the Opportunity Fund and the capacity to fund more scholarships, the campus is vibrant and flourishing. In one short decade, the demand for college at home in Burleson has exceeded the facility’s capacity, driving the development of a private/public initiative to build a new facility, bring along bachelor degree partners and add a collegiate high school program.
The board of the 501(c)(3) is made up of Burleson’s mayor and superintendent, council members and school board trustees, college and district officials, city and district staff members, local business leaders and citizens at large. Most administrative responsibilities are performed by volunteers, and fund raising efforts are driven by dedicated members of the board, city and district staff and friends of higher education resulting in a total fund raising cost of less than 5 percent of total revenues each year…which means that over 95 percent of every dollar raised actually goes directly to fund a scholarship or book stipend for first- and second-year scholars attending the Burleson Center.
Breakfast attendees every year include PTO moms and dads, national, state and local political leaders, local business leaders, restaurant owners, grocers and industrial leaders, school teachers, administrators, builders and designers, Athena honorees, church leaders and local foundation officials. They participate in the morning event to meet the scholarship recipients as they serve breakfast, and to hear the success stories of students who have achieved their goals academically and professionally. Attendees have heard from teachers, nurses, business men and women who have completed their education and have begun careers at Texas Health Resources Huguley Hospital, Burleson ISD and a host of other local employment centers. In addition donors hear from the Champions of Education, those professionals who advocate for students, for higher education and its benefits, and who work diligently year after year to introduce students to the program and support their success.
The event became known as “The Breakfast of Champions” largely because the launch year was an Olympic year. This year, as the country once again celebrates America’s success in the 2016 Olympics, the community will also be celebrating the success of Higher Education in Burleson, the successes of over 730 student recipients and the impact of Higher Education on the cultural and economic health of the Burleson community. Visit the website at BurlesonOppFund.com to pledge your support and to reserve your seat at the Oct. 6 Annual Breakfast of Champions.