For Vancouver Island University earth sciences student Jamie Anderson, every little bit of monetary help she receives is appreciated.
For the past three years, the 29-year-old received a bursary from the VIU Foundation based on a combination of academic achievement and financial need. As someone dependent on student loans to finish her degree, every little bit of help she receives means she doesn’t have to borrow quite as much.
“Any money is really good for students,” said Anderson, adding that the $500 she just received from the foundation will probably cover her books for a semester.
“It’s nice to know there are people out there who are encouraging people to do the best they can and rewarding people,” she said. “It gives you that little incentive to do better.”
For some of her peers, the foundation’s help can mean the difference between being able to attend university or not, Anderson added.
For example, a friend of hers owns a house so she is not eligible for a student loan and financial aid from the foundation helps her get by, she said.
The foundation came into existence in 1994 to manage the university’s endowment and raise money to support the institution by providing financial aid to students through scholarships, bursaries and awards.
About 900 awards are given out annually and in recent years, the foundation has also been looking for donors wanting to help enhance the learning environment, whether that be new buildings, infrastructure upgrades or new learning tools, said Bruce Williams, foundation chairman.
The provincial government has changed the way post-secondary institutions are funded and less than half of the institution’s operating budget now comes from government, compared with more than 80 per cent three decades ago, so the foundation is looking for other sources to support students’ ability to learn, he said.
Local philanthropist Sidney Sharman recently donated $350,000 to build a state-of-the-art nursing simulation lab on the Nanaimo campus to allow nursing students to get critical hands-on experience.
Williams said securing this type of community support ensures students get the relevant, up-to-date training they need to find employment.
“Employers want to hire someone who’s up to speed, so we try as hard as we can to emulate that,” he said. “We do everything we can to enhance students’ ability to learn.”
The institution’s wish list includes a new student centre, athletic centre and health and sciences building and the foundation hopes to help find the money needed to make these enhanced facilities a reality, said Williams.
Over the past year, the foundation has been able to reach more donors and grow annual revenues from $2.1 million to $3.2 million – an increase of more than $1 million.
Williams said the foundation was able to not only increase the number of donors, whom he calls investors, but also increase the amount given by donors by getting the word out about the value of contributing.
The Festival of Trees annual fundraiser contributes a relatively small part of the foundation’s annual revenues at about $100,000 per year, but it makes people aware of what the foundation is doing, he said.
“By investing in the university, you’re investing in people,” said Williams. “It’s a matter of showing how much we matter. If we’re going to grow our economy, we need to do it with skills.”