JCSU gets $1 million-plus in scholarship aid

The Leon Levine, Wells Fargo and John M. Belk foundations are giving a collective $1 million to help students at Johnson C. Smith University with emergency scholarship expenses.

Much of the money – $825,000 – is being provided by the John M. Belk Endowment, which announced it intends the money to help deserving first-generation college students who graduate from North Carolina high schools.

The Levine and Wells Fargo foundations are each giving $100,000 in the form of challenge grants to raise money for the President’s Gap Scholarship Fund, created in response to a financial aid crisis at the university in the spring of 2013.

More than 100 students could not return to school because their financial aid package did not cover all their tuition and expenses. No other financial aid was available for them at that time, officials said.

Johnson C. Smith President Ronald Carter noted the school is facing an unprecedented scholarship funding gap, due to the federal government’s decision to place new restrictions and requirements on some student loan programs.

“The need is great. Approximately 85 percent of JCSU students receive some form of financial aid, 45 percent are first-generation college students, and 70 percent come from low-income households,” said Carter. “Such statistics speak to the … constant pressure they carry as they find ways to finance their education.”

The university set a goal of raising $10 million to create an endowment to help scholarship students cover financial gaps. To date, $3.9 million has been raised for the endowment or for immediate scholarship funding.

Tom Lawrence of the Leon Levine Foundation said founders Leon and Sandra Levine wanted to help publicize the need for new donors to help the President’s Gap Scholarship Fund. Matching dollars will also be given in cases where existing donors decide to raise their gifts to the fund, he said.

“The lack of funds is a primary driver of college dropouts,” Lawrence said. “I think it’s a tragedy that finances would hold a motivated scholar back from their successful college pursuit.”

Joy Paige, a Johnson C. Smith vice president, noted that even though the Gap Scholarship Fund is not yet a year old, it has already helped 127 students. In some cases, those students needed as little as $750 to stay in school. On average, families need about $3,000, Paige said.

“Imagine you are a student being told to go home. That’s what had happened in the past,” Paige said.

“On average, there’s about a $2.5 million gap in annual need for scholarships, based on the current economy. With the 127 we have helped already, that is 127 future dreams that have been fulfilled.”