Tobacco funds education

Published 12:24 am Tuesday, December 27, 2011

For the past three months, community leaders have been wrestling with a process: nailing down the recipients of $2 million in grant money set aside for Beaufort County by the Golden LEAF Foundation’s Community Assistance Initiative. Now Golden LEAF Foundation has announced there is more assistance to be had for residents of Tier 1 counties across the state—scholarships.

Golden LEAF intends to award 215 scholarships to assist with tuition for the 2012-13 academic years. The awards are valued at $12,000 each, which translates to $3,000 per year for up to four years, for tuition at one of 57 qualifying North Carolina public universities and private colleges, including Campbell University, Duke University, East Carolina University, Meredith College, N.C. State University, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, among many others. Those applying for scholarships must be a first–time recipient of the Golden LEAF scholarship; be enrolled during the 2011–2012 academic year at a North Carolina high school or community college; plan to enroll in fall 2012 as a fulltime freshman at one of the qualifying schools or plan to enroll as a transfer student from a North Carolina community college; be a North Carolina resident with permanent residence in one of 78 rural counties, Beaufort County among them; and demonstrate a financial need.

“The (Golden LEAF) Foundation has awarded over $21 million to help 7,859 students from rural North Carolina attend the state’s public and private colleges and universities,” wrote the foundation’s president, Dan Gerlach, in an email.

Scholarships to the big schools aren’t the only ones available: students planning to enroll at participating community colleges are eligible for up to $750 per semester, which includes summer sessions, for degree-seeking students, and up to $250 per semester for occupational education students.

“Our Board sees the promise these scholars show to become leaders in their rural communities and has constructed this scholarship program to foster that promise,” explained Gerlach.

The scholarships’ origins have their roots in tobacco, one of the driving forces of Beaufort County’s economic history. In 1998, the big four tobacco companies (Philip Morris USA, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., and Lorillard Tobacco Company) settled a Medicaid lawsuit with 46 states, including North Carolina, by agreeing to pay a minimum of $206 billion over 25 years as reimbursement for tobacco-related health care costs. Half of North Carolina’s share of the settlement created the Golden LEAF fund, and has since been used to “promote the social welfare of North Carolina’s citizens and to receive and distribute funds for economic impact assistance to economically affected or tobacco-dependent regions of North Carolina.”

The history of the fund plays a part in the Golden LEAF Scholars Program for those competing for scholarships to community colleges: those eligible for the tuition awards must undergo a “merit” competition, in which not only are academic records and leadership assessed, but students are asked to describe the effect of the declining economy on his or her family, and how the decline in the tobacco industry, specifically, has affected their lives.

More information about Golden LEAF Scholars Programs and applications can be found at