Meritus College Fund celebrates 15 years

Every month, Yasmin Bhatti and her mother sit down with the electricity bill to see if they have enough to cover their lighting and heating. Sometimes money is so tight, they take the loose change from their pockets to pay the bill.

Every day is a financial struggle. Yasmin, 18, works at AT&T Park scooping ice cream and brewing coffee to earn enough for the bus fare that gets her to San Francisco's Mission High School. Her sister, now 20, was admitted to college but instead went to work to help support her family.

So when Yasmin walks into a UC Berkeley lecture hall this fall, she'll be the first in her family to attend college, thanks to a unique scholarship program for good students who might otherwise not get the chance.
The Meritus College Fund this year will celebrate 15 years of helping high school seniors who might otherwise fall through the cracks - not the valedictorians who have a relatively easy time getting financial assistance, but good students who have overcome hardships such as poverty, violence and homelessness.

Most scholarships may give relatively meager amounts to students with less-than-perfect GPAs, explained Mark Kantrowitz, a financial aid expert and founder of the websites FastWeb and FinAid.

And while the $12,000 that Meritus gives won't cover everything, it makes a huge dent, he said.
"These scholarships don't necessarily match a student's need dollar for dollar, but they do help reduce students' debt payment," he said. "That means they can possibly have an easier time repaying loans after graduation."

Requests for help from Meritus College Fund increased 25 percent this year over last. About 200 students are currently in the program, and of the more than 400 who have participated since the scholarship started, about half were the first in their families to go to college.