CU Scholarship Awards Are Still Going Strong During Recession
Polish & Slavic Federal Credit Union handed out $350,000 in scholarships this year to more than 315 students from the high school to post-graduate level. The credit union increased its scholarship giving by $50,000 over the last year.
Since offering the scholarships, CEO Bogdan Chmielewski said that the credit union has seen a 4% increase in young membership and has also seen an increase in overall membership. Chmielewski said that the credit union typically sees an increase in young people signing up for membership in the months before the scholarships are offered.
"We're not only a financial institution but also a leader of the community. We do these things because members come to us and know the benefit goes back to the community."
The money to fund the scholarships comes from profit capital, and Chmielewsi said that Polish & Slavic has been lucky to have a very strong capital ratio of 11%.
"We're still making money, and we're going to prove to our members that we stand behind them in difficult times," he said.
The credit union also funded a stay for 20 gifted students at a science camp at Copernicus Observatory in Vestal, N.Y., prior to giving out the scholarships. It also added a new scholarship program. A $5,000 scholarship will be awarded to a member who is admitted to study at the Institute of World Politics in Washington. Polish & Slavic also provided a $10,000 donation for the Kosciuszko chair at the institute.
The Credit Union Foundation of Maryland and the District of Columbia introduced a new addition to its scholarship program as well-a video application category.
The foundation provides $11,000 in scholarships to members of participating credit unions. A few years ago, Executive Director Kyle Swisher said that it restructured the program so that credit unions could adopt the scholarship program as their own. Credit unions can now call the scholarship their own without referring to the foundation, and the foundation provides them with artwork, posters and articles to promote the program.
"My relationship with the member is irrelevant. We wanted to give most of the spotlight to the credit unions so they can build on existing Gen Y relationships and build new ones," Swisher explained about the need to restructure.
Though he didn't have any numbers, Swisher said that he knows members have joined the participating credit unions just to take advantage of the scholarship because the foundation handles all questions related to the scholarship program. Students have to be a member of a credit union to apply for the scholarship, but it doesn't matter how long ago they became a member.
This year the foundation awarded scholarships to the top 10 essay applicants and the top video applicant. The winning video is up on the foundation's Web site, www.cufound.org/scholarship.htm. The winning video featured a superhero called Credit Union Man who stops a young girl from giving her money to a bank and persuades her to put it into a credit union. Members were asked to either answer an essay question on how they envision credit unions run by staff and volunteers under the age of 30 or produce a one-minute video on how banks and credit unions are different. The foundation had over 200 essay and eight video applications to choose from.
The foundation posted all eight video applications on YouTube for credit union members, employees and foundation judges to rate. The top-rated video was awarded the scholarship.
Loren Llanes, public relations specialist at South Florida Educational Federal Credit Union, said that the credit union awards its scholarships based on a random lottery rather than judging essays, which gives students who are not as academically inclined a chance to win as well.
South Florida Educational awards 15 Florida state four-year, full-tuition scholarships every year. If the student chooses to go outside of the state or go to a private college, the credit union awards the value of a state school tuition that can be applied toward out of state or private college tuition. A student must be a member at the credit union for a year in order to qualify.
"Members are surprised when they find out that it is full-tuition. Even though ours has to be used for tuition, other scholarships aren't, so they can be combined with ours and used toward things like room and board," Llanes said.
Llanes does outreach in the community to make sure members are aware of the scholarship and can open up accounts in enough time to qualify.
The credit union has a summer intern program under which the CU sets up youth in low-income areas with jobs at local businesses.
When the students come to apply for the program, Llanes sits down with them one-on-one to explain the difference between a bank and a credit union, open their credit union account and talk to them and their parents about the scholarship program.
"Some of the kids said that they had already heard about the scholarship program and some parents were already members."
The funds for the scholarships come from the credit union's marketing budget, and Llanes said that fortunately the credit union has not had to cut back on anything.
Funds for the Credit Union Foundation scholarships come from donations from credit unions, individuals, businesses and other foundations. And Swisher said that he is seeing more people step up and donate in spite of the recession. --firstname.lastname@example.org