Founded in 2000 via a merger between Shelby State Community College and State Technical Institute at Memphis, Southwest Tennessee Community College has been fulfilling its mission to provide its students with a high quality and affordable post-secondary education that prepares them for associate degrees, future educational opportunities, and successful employment for two decades. Offering both online and in-person courses to over 13,000 students each year, the educational institution boasts more than 25 technical certificates, a strong university parallel curriculum and dual enrollment/dual credit opportunities for high school students in the area. To support these efforts and more, The Southwest Tennessee Community College Foundation was established to enhance the college’s mission by awarding more than $150,000 annually in book, tuition and emergency scholarships aimed at helping students overcome financial obstacles that threaten their success.
The Foundation is focused on six initiatives: 1) establishing the Business and Industry Training Center that will allow Southwest to triple the number of classes offered; 2) awarding more full-time tuition scholarships designed to aid the college-ready student who is typically a recent high school graduate or adult who does not receive financial aid, 3) awarding emergency scholarships to enable students to overcome crises that threaten their ability to persist to completion, 4) providing additional support to emerging scholars who are financially challenged, 5) awarding unrestricted general scholarships to students who are near completion, but have a financial obstacle to overcome, such as a small balance; and last but certainly not least, 6) the Book Scholarship Campaign.
Since Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect have been introduced, making community or technical college tuition free, the need for The Southwest Foundation’s book scholarships has grown immensely. Eliminating tuition as a barrier to entry has not removed the cost of books, which can amount to around $500 per semester, on average. For students who qualify for the federal Pell grant, meaning their income is at or below the poverty line, this financial burden can be a deterrent to them obtaining their degree. Still, other students fall through the cracks and are not eligible for tuition-free college. They include those ages 19-24 who are too old for Tennessee Promise and too young for Tennessee Reconnect; dual enrollment students who are taking college-level courses while in high school; students seeking career certification whose courses are non-credit and do not qualify for state funds; and lastly, students with unresolved student debt. However, since the Foundation’s inception, more than $2.7 million in scholarships have been granted and over $10 million in funding has been allocated toward the construction of new buildings and the renovation of existing ones, resulting in 100 percent of each gift directly benefiting and supporting student success.
It is undeniable that obtaining an education serves as a gateway to a brighter future, and Southwest Tennessee Community College continues to provide that pipeline for its students. These students are Shelby County’s future workforce and will directly contribute to the Mid-South’s economic prosperity and success. A way that individuals, families and companies can give back to the Foundation’s mission is by making a tax-deductible financial commitment at www.southwest.tn.edu/foundation/. Those who want to donate their time and talent can serve as a mentor to a Southwest student through tnAchieves and can learn more at www.tn.gov/tnpromise/volunteers.html.
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