Couple's $8.5 million bequest to Cuesta College is a gift that will benefit generations

The gift will provide scholarships for locals to go to Cuesta College

letters@thetribunenews.comOctober 16, 2013 

A bird's-eye view of Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

Charles Dovica never had a chance to complete his university training — he was forced to flee Hungary during the Nazi invasion — but he and his wife Leeta will help countless students in San Luis Obispo County get started on their college educations.

The couple included an $8.5 million bequest to Cuesta College in their will, and the college will use the money to offer scholarships to each and every high school graduate in San Luis Obispo County.

Currently, about 700 local high school graduates — roughly 25 percent all graduating seniors — enroll in Cuesta.

We expect that number to rise as word of the scholarship program — called Cuesta College Promise — circulates. That boost in student population should help the college financially, as some state funding is linked to enrollment.

We also hope the offer of a scholarship will be an enticement to students who may be on the fence about attending college.

That’s been the experience at other colleges offering Promise programs, including in Ventura. Its community college has been providing 1,000 one-year scholarships to local high school graduates for the past seven years. Statistics show that Promise students are more likely to stay in college than their counterparts who don’t receive the scholarships, according to Norbert Tan, executive director of the Ventura College Foundation.

One of the ideas behind the program, Tan said, is to encourage students to enroll in college straight out of high school, rather than waiting until they’re in their 20s and 30s when they may have to juggle their studies with a full-time job and raising a family.

“It’s a lot easier (to attend college) when you don’t have a mortgage and kids and a job,” he said.

Cuesta’s Promise program will cost about $300,000 per year, which will be funded with the interest earned on the $8.5 million endowment.

To qualify for scholarships, a high school diploma is all that’s needed.

Students don’t have to earn a minimum GPA or meet any family income requirements, though they will be required to complete financial aid forms to establish eligibility for aid, to help guarantee they’ll continue their educations past the first semester.

Students who qualify for aid will receive fee waivers to cover the per-unit costs for that first semester, but the Promise program will cover other fees.

For those students who aren’t eligible for aid, Cuesta will pay all fees, which amount to about $625 for afull-time student.

Broken down per student, that’s not a huge sum of money. But it sends a powerful message that all students — regardless of how they scored on their SATs or how many extracurricular activities they have on their résumés — deserve a shot at a higher education.

We can’t imagine a better gift the Dovicas could have given to generations of SLO County kids.

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