Ten San Diego students who competed and won scholarships for college worth a total of $176,000 were left high and dry when the program sponsors announced last month they had run out of money after paying out just $38,000.
The STOP 2011 scholarship was offered to high school seniors who wrote essays on “why the national debt matters to young people” as if they were writing to President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Arizona) and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio). STOP stands for Stop Taxing Our Pupils.
The message from the sponsors about the virtues of austerity probably was not lost on the students who had started school with the expectation that they would be receiving money over a four-year period. Five students were selected in 2011-12 and five more the next school year.
“I feel really angry, I feel exploited, almost like betrayed. ... And there wasn’t even a proper reason,” California State University, Long Beach freshman Miranda Ceja told U-T San Diego. Ceja described a four-stage competition for which she worked “two to four hours every day, working and working and working” only to be informed that her promised $14,000 scholarship had been reduced to $1,500. She told the Del Mar Times she broke down and cried when she got the letter.
David Greif, a mechanical engineering student at the University of Arizona, said he received just $750 of the $7,500 he was promised. About 150 students competed for the scholarships.
STOP 2011 was joined in the endeavor by the nonprofit Heartland Coalition, which bills itself as serving “low-income residents of California, Nevada, Arizona and Alaska with projects in the areas of career and community development, healthcare, environmental protection and clean energy, disaster relief, education, objective and timely news, and public art.”
The Del Mar Times said that according to an IRS filing, Heartland earned $392,396 in 2011 and spent $526,398.
A letter to students from scholarship coordinator Jim Hester, who used to serve on the Heartland board of directors as vice president and general counsel, said, “I regret to inform you that there is no money to pay out for the scholarships. This is the biggest disappointment, failure and embarrassment of my life and words cannot convey my feelings.”
Hester, a lawyer who reportedly now lives in Florida and is no longer affiliated with Heartland, said critics “implied that we scammed these kids.” But he maintained the scholarship fund was a victim of circumstances.
Hester said a 5K fund-raising race was cancelled after a lot of money had been expended on its planning. And Heartland President Mark Hanson said lawyers who pledged most of the funding lost their jobs in a corporate downsizing.