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Osher Foundation Gift of $1 Million Supports UW Nontraditional Students

July 23, 2013
Six members of beneficiary group
Osher Foundation students and program directors celebrated the University of Wyoming’s receipt of a $1 million grant to support nontraditional students. From left, bottom row, are Mary Bargdill, Laramie, and Erin Anders, Cheyenne. Top row, Mary Robson, Cheyenne; James Mouton, Glenrock; and Directors Michael Wade and Dolores Cardona. (UW Foundation)

The Bernard Osher Foundation recently awarded $1 million to the University of Wyoming to establish an endowment to support scholarships for nontraditional students re-entering the university.

The grant permanently establishes the Osher Re-entry Scholarship Program and follows the foundation’s two-year expendable award of $50,000 per year that, to date, has supported a total of 36 students.

The program provides scholarship support for students pursuing their first bachelor’s degree after a significant break in their studies.

“The Osher Foundation invited UW to submit an endowment request given the impressive work we demonstrated with the program in our previous year-to-year awards,” says Dolores Cardona, associate dean of students and co-administrator of the program. “Our students were successful. We awarded every dollar to deserving students. Our record of meeting Bernard Osher’s desire to help adult re-entry students was realized, and this generous $1 million gift will now assist adult learners in the future at UW. We are blessed and grateful for this gift, and our students will benefit greatly from it.”

“The Osher endowment will ensure that UW can provide the financial resources to support its growing population of nontraditional students, including adults returning to college to improve their skills and veteran students seeking an education after serving our country,” says program co-administrator Michael Wade, associate director of Student Educational Opportunity. “I am grateful to the Osher Foundation for recognizing UW’s commitment to helping adult re-entry students achieve their educational goals.”

“Re-entry students” are defined as individuals who have experienced a cumulative gap in their postsecondary education of five or more years and who want to resume their undergraduate education. The program benefits students ages 25 to 50 who have years of employability ahead of them.

The Osher Re-entry Scholarship Program does not support students directly. Rather, colleges and universities administer the scholarship program after receiving a grant from the foundation. To date, 90 universities in 50 states and the District of Columbia participate in the program.

Nontraditional re-entry students often require extra support in the form of academic and career counseling, training in newer technologies, and balancing family and employment. The institutions that are awarded Osher Foundation re-entry grants already have established services that address these needs and support the success of re-entering students -- such as UW’s offices of Multicultural Affairs, Student Educational Opportunity, and nontraditional and gender programs.

“Scholarship support is vital to the success of our nontraditional students,” says Ben Blalock, UW Foundation president. “Without financial assistance, the challenge for nontraditional students to return to college is frequently an impossible hurdle. The Osher Foundation’s philanthropy is providing life-changing opportunities for deserving students.”   

According to Osher Foundation guidelines, students may be full- or part-time, but preference is given to full-time students. Financial need, academic promise and commitment to earning a degree are among factors considered for the award, which is applied exclusively toward tuition and fees. UW also requires that applicants declare a major. The goal is to award scholarships to at least 20 nontraditional students per year.

“I was a military wife for nine years,” writes Erin Anders of Cheyenne, an agroecology and anthropology student, in her application. “As you can imagine, with a young child, it was nearly impossible to effectively work and go to school. Last year, the Osher Re-entry Scholarship provided me financial assistance that enabled me to work less and alleviated some stress associated with monetary issues.”

“I cannot begin to express the gratitude I feel toward the help I have received this far,” writes Quinn Coffeen, who transferred to UW from Laramie County Community College and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology. “The scholarship money I have received continues to impact my academic abilities, and I am truly grateful.”

UW’s fall 2012 enrollment summary reports that 24 percent of undergraduates are over the age of 25 (nontraditional). Wyoming currently ranks 41st in the nation in citizens with undergraduate degrees, with only 23.6 percent of its population over the age of 24 having received bachelor’s degrees. UW is working to increase that number, not only on the Laramie campus but also statewide through the UW Outreach School.

The Bernard Osher Foundation’s mission is to improve quality of life by supporting higher education and the arts. Other programs supported by the foundation include the Osher Scholars and Osher Fellows programs that provide scholarships for higher education; Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes that provide noncredit courses to adults over age 50; support for the arts and integrative medicine; and other programs. The foundation is headquartered in San Francisco.

Banker and philanthropist Bernard Osher was born in Biddeford, Maine, in 1927. He graduated from Bowdoin College in 1948 and then ran a hardware store and a summer amusement park. He worked for the investment bank Oppenheimer & Company before moving to California to be the founding director of the nation’s second-largest savings institution, World Savings, which eventually merged with Wachovia Corporation. Osher founded the Bernard Osher Foundation in 1977 and has become known as “the quiet philanthropist” for his extensive support of higher education and the arts.

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Osher plans to give away his entire fortune: “Although I have no heirs, I can enjoy the opportunity of helping members of several generations lead more fulfilling lives by my contributions,” he says.

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