Working to make the college dream a reality: Humboldt Area Foundation looks to create tuition fund for local students

The Humboldt Area Foundation is looking to create a needs-based tuition guarantee fund to encourage local students to pursue college -- starting with College of the Redwoods.

"In 2010, 23 percent of students in Humboldt County attended college, which was lower than the state average, but the high school completion rate was 84.9 percent, which was higher than the state average," said Cassandra Wagner, the foundation's program coordinator of scholarships and grants.

With the region's former mainstay trade jobs -- timber and fishing -- no longer

providing the middle class jobs that were at the center Humboldt County's economy, today's students need to consider college, she said.

"Folks need to get further education to prosper," Wagner said. "From an economic standpoint, we live in a place that's pretty impoverished, so technical training is a must for the survival of both local adults and the local economy."

The foundation's executive director Patrick Cleary said the goal is to be able to go to every graduating senior and say, "We can make sure you will be able to go to College of the Redwoods."

If that plan is successful, he said, the foundation will then begin to work with Humboldt State University regarding the same concept.

"We think it's doable, and we're currently gathering data regarding such factors as how many students could potentially take advantage of it and what the financial aid sources are that are available, because we don't want to replace them," Cleary said.

College of the Redwoods President Kathy Smith said current research for the fund includes investigating how many students leave the community to attend college and how many stay.

"We've been looking at possible restrictions, such as making sure students don't move here for the last half of their senior year just for the fund, and looking at data provided by the county that looks at targets of opportunity to see where jobs are growing," Smith said.

John Sapper, Humboldt County Office of Education's assistant superintendent of educational services, said the major reasons young folks don't seriously consider secondary education are they think they aren't good enough, or they think they can't afford it.

"I'm very pleased and thankful that the foundation is willing to take the lead on the idea of this fund," Sapper said. "What a wonderful combination of support that would make secondary schooling a realistic option for those who think it isn't."

For more information on the Humboldt Area Foundation, visit www.hafoundation. org/

Jillian Singh is a reporter for the Times-Standard. She can be reached at 441-0509 or