FARMINGTON HILLS, Mich. -- As part of a new initiative to encourage Michigan high school students to pursue a higher education within the state, Community Choice Credit Union announced that it will be awarding $1 million in scholarships to students attending a college or university in Michigan.
The $1 million will distributed over a four-year period, and Community Choice has pledged that it will provide at least $100,000 per year to the scholarship fund. The credit union developed the Community Choice Foundation to support the scholarship initiative and is seeking 501(c)(3) tax status, which will allow members to support the fund with individual donations. To reach the goal of $1 million, the fundraising objective is to collect an average of $5 from each of the credit unions' 50,000 members from 2010 to 2012.
"We think this is a very realistic goal," said John Owens, senior vice president of marketing at Community Choice. "We already had a man that heard about the program donate $5,000 even though we don't have our 501(c)(3) tax status yet and his donation wouldn't be tax deductible. He loved the idea and just wanted to be a part of it."
The scholarship program is part of a dream of President/CEO Robert Bava had to be able to provide students with the opportunity to go to college.
"As a first-generation American, I saw how much my father sacrificed to give his children the opportunity to work hard, to get an education and to strive for more," Bava said. "As a father, I want to provide that same opportunity to my children; as a member of Community Choice, I'm honored to be part of an organization that will extend the powerful opportunity of education to others in the community."
The Community Choice scholarship program is modeled after a program in Kalamazoo, Mich., called the Kalamazoo Promise.
In 2006, an anonymous donor promised students who graduate from Kalamazoo Public Schools a four-year scholarship to any public college or university in Michigan. The program covers 100% of the tuition and mandatory fees for students who have been enrolled in Kalamazoo Public Schools since kindergarten and whose parents live in the district. Partial scholarships are given to students who enter the district after kindergarten.
Owens said that since Kalamazoo Promise started, the high school in Kalamazoo increased its graduation rate by 20%.
"We hope this is something other people in Southeast Michigan will start to emulate so that we can keep our kids here in Michigan," Owens said.
The Community Choice scholarship will provide students with $5,000 scholarships. According to the College Board's 2007 "Trends in College Pricing" the average in-state tuition for a four-year, public university in Michigan, less the average financial aid package, was $4,908 per year.
To provide the targeted $100,000 each year in scholarship funds, Owens said that the credit union examined its marketing budget to look at what they were spending money on.
"We were able to cut out two or three things when we asked 'what does this do for us and our members?' When you think about $100,000 a year some of that is going to places that are questionable. We know that this money is going to go somewhere that is valuable to the community."
Since the process to get the 501(c)(3) status for the foundation could take anywhere from six to 12 months, for 2009, the credit union will award scholarships from the $100,000 set aside by the credit union. For 2010, the credit union is expecting to have more money to award through donations from businesses and members.
The scholarship program will be open to all high schools within the seven counties that Community Choice serves. Students must have at least a 3.0 grade-point average to qualify for the scholarship.
"We hope to get lots of responses from the community. This is the first start to our youth program to enlist young people in the credit union movement," Owens said.
Owens said Community Choice is working on an ATM network that will give members free ATM access anywhere in the world and appointing a younger senior manager that will work with high schools and represent the credit union to younger members of the community. Owens said that Community Choice also wants to have a younger employee at each branch to handle high school members and their family.
Since Community Choice merged with $225 million Research Federal Credit Union in 2007, the credit union has been working on various initiatives aimed at getting the Community Choice name out into the community.
Community Choice announced the foundation and scholarship program at the dedication of its new 42,000-square-foot headquarters in Farmington Hills, where Congressman Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.) gave an address and discussed the current economy.
In another effort to reach out to the community, on Oct. 13, over 150 employees participated in a community-service project at Vista Maria in Dearborn Heights, Mich., a home for abused women. The employees helped with landscaping and fence repairs.
"This is a coming out period for the credit union and we think that we've done it right," Owens said.
Community Choice will complete its current effort to expand the Community Choice brand with a family day that will held at the new headquarters and will include an open house.