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THE LAST WORD: Questa’s Legacy Scholars program in jeopardy with denial of city funds

Kerry Hubartt

The Questa Foundation for Education was in the news last week due to a failed request for support from the Fort Wayne Legacy Fund, even though it has received Legacy Fund monies for several years for its Legacy Scholars program.

Questa offers low-interest forgivable loans for students pursuing a certificate, associate or bachelor’s degree from an Indiana college or university. It’s a non-profit organization with a special place in my heart because I served on its board for many years and was involved in the development of a program that offers up to 50 percent forgiveness on loans.

One of the challenges in seeking growth in Questa’s outreach has been trying to increase funding to accommodate the growing number of students applying for these “half-back” loans that require students to live and work in northeast Indiana for five years following graduation.

The Legacy Scholars program is one of several programs offered by Questa, but the only one that uses money from the Legacy Fund, money generated by the lease and sale of the city’s old power utility. Students in the program must live in Fort Wayne, must be working toward a certificate, associate or bachelor’s degree and attend an Indiana not-for-profit college or university. They must also stay in Allen County after graduation and work in northeast Indiana.

Questa’s mission is to expand educational opportunities and encourage greater financial freedom for students by providing affordable college loans and scholarships that reward academic success and retain college graduates in northeast Indiana. That retention effort has been one of the foundation’s biggest selling points in attracting support in the region because it matches the goals of many organizations that seek to reduce “brain drain” — the loss of young talent in Indiana who graduate from our schools only to move out of state to begin their careers, many never coming back.

I believe that selling point was part of the reason City Council approved a plan on Nov. 13, 2013, to provide up to $200,000 per year in Legacy funds for four years to be made available by the Questa Foundation in the form of loans to Fort Wayne residents attending college.

Support for Questa’s mission is also evident in the commitment by City Councilman Dr. John Crawford, R-at large, who, for the past two decades, has donated his entire annual council salary of $20,000 to Questa.

Questa was begun in 1937 by R. Nelson Snider, principal of South Side High School, and later incorporated as the Fort Wayne Educational Foundation. In 2007, Questa’s board of directors adopted the Questa Scholars Program, which provides up to $20,000 in college loans, over four years, for qualified high school graduates in northeast Indiana. It will forgive up to 50 percent of the loan if a student graduates with a 2.75 cumulative GPA.

Another 25% of the total loan is forgiven for scholars attending and graduating from one of Questa’s nine partner regional institutions: Indiana Tech, Ivy Tech, PFW, University of Saint Francis, Huntington University, Grace College, Manchester University, Trine University and Indiana Wesleyan.

Since 2007, Questa has served nearly 800 students, provided approximately $7 million in forgivable loans, granted nearly $1.5 million in scholarships and maintained an 85% graduation rate, compared to the national average of 60%

So why did Questa’s latest request for $800,000 in Legacy funds die for lack of a motion to support it in Thursday’s meeting of the Legacy Joint Funding Committee? It was the same amount, $200,000 a year for four years, that it received from the fund in 2013.

A Journal Gazette report on the meeting said because of the guidelines established for the committee, which was formed in 2014, most committee members who were present were uncomfortable using the Legacy Fund indefinitely for Questa’s scholarship fund.

Committee member Ron Turpin, was quoted as saying the fund is structured to prioritize capital brick-and-mortar projects and that it is meant to be a one-time funding, rather than a continuing source of financial support.

While the committee says it will not recommend that City Council approve Legacy Funding for Questa, the Journal report points out that Mayor Tom Henry or any City Council member may still introduce a bill to provide Legacy funds for the Questa program.

Questa’s executive director, Marc Levy, who will retire from Questa in June, said that without Legacy funding, the Legacy Scholar program will likely be phased out by 2021.

While that would seem to me an unfortunate turn in the progress of a great service to students in Fort Wayne, I hope other funding opportunities will open up in the future to accommodate the growing number of students who apply for Questa loans every year.

Kerry Hubartt is former editor of The News-Sentinel.

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