Going back to college — with a little help

Osher Scholarships Support Older Students

Photo by John BauguessPhoto by John Bauguess

An Osher Re-entry Scholarship is easing financial stress for business major Christian Ramos as he manages a full course load plus weekend drills with the Oregon National Guard and his job as an assistant veteran’s affairs caseworker in Sen. Ron Wyden’s Eugene office.


Mortgage payments, major car repairs, responsibilities for children or elderly parents, work demands. Such hurdles rarely confront undergraduates who go directly from high school to college, but they can derail older students.

“There are huge extenuating factors for older students,” said Jonathan Wei, who coordinates UO Nontraditional Student Programs on campus. ”Many of them joined the work force or the military straight out of high school.”

But now there’s help. Christian Ramos, an Iraq war veteran, and Raquel Wells, a single mom with four children ages seven to seventeen, are among twenty-five UO undergraduates receiving scholarships of up to $2,000 this year due to a recent grant from the San Francisco-based Bernard Osher Foundation.

“Our foundation is pleased to assist University of Oregon students reentering the academic arena after a significant hiatus,” said Bernard Osher, founder and treasurer. “These are students whom university administrators routinely describe as unusually hard-working, courageous, and determined to create better lives for themselves and their families.”

Osher is a founding director of World Savings, the second largest savings institution in the United States, which recently was purchased by Wachovia Corporation.

One of the UO Osher Scholarship recipients, Christian Ramos, who transferred to the Oregon National Guard following four years of active duty in the U.S. Army after high school, says being “older and wiser” helped him do well as a twenty-one-year-old UO freshman.

But he had to put his sophomore year on hold when his unit was activated in the fall of 2003. The soft-spoken bachelor found himself taking an eighteen-month break from college that included a year in Iraq. A communications sergeant, he was chosen to serve on the battalion commander’s security team.

“From the time I arrived in Iraq, I was determined to come back and finish my degree no matter how long it might take,” said Ramos, who views a college education as crucial to realizing his hoped-for career in the military or in business.

Ramos said being chosen for the Osher Reentry Scholarship allowed him to resume his studies this fall free from financial strain.

“I’m paying all my bills—car payments
and rent—but because the military’s fiscal year differs from the university’s, my tuition assistance doesn’t kick in until winter term,” he explained. “This scholarship is definitely easing some tensions.”

Like Ramos, Osher scholarship recipient Raquel Wells is a first-generation college student. She’s had to scale back her full-time position with the City of Eugene’s recreation department in order to return to school, a financial sacrifice that affects her entire family.

“In my field, almost everyone has an advanced degree. You get to a certain point in your life where it gets harder and harder not to have one,” said Wells, a senior majoring in family and human services who continues to work thirty hours a week. She earned perfect grades last year while taking up to twenty-one units each term.

Wells said the Osher Rentry Scholarship saves her from taking on debt, a looming source of stress for two out of three UO students who now rely on loans even if they also work part-time.

The university, which also enjoys support from the Bernard Osher Foundation for its Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, is among thirty-one campuses in fourteen states that have received grants to support the Osher Reentry Scholarship program.

Wei said the university will be able to apply for renewal of its $50,000 Osher grant for up to two more years. In the third year, assuming all goes well, the UO will become eligible for a $1 million endowment gift from the foundation that would assure continuing support for highly motivated re-entry students.