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Bernard Osher Foundation awards $1 million to SOU

The Bernard Osher Foundation of San Francisco has awarded the Southern Oregon University Foundation a $1 million grant to be used for students restarting their education after a five-year absence.

It's the third $1 million cash grant the Osher Foundation has made to SOU since 2009. The other two were given to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which offers a variety classes to seniors in the community.

"The Osher Foundation has been incredibly generous to SOU," university President Mary Cullinan said in a press release issued Wednesday. "This scholarship support will transform lives for generations of re-entry students. I am thrilled."

For the past three years, the Osher Foundation has provided SOU with $50,000 annually for reentry scholarships. The $1 million grant will be put into an endowment, so that about $50,000 in scholarships will continue to be offered to re-entering students each year.

The Osher Foundation defines reentry students as those who have a cumulative gap in their education of five or more years after high school. Most of SOU's nontraditional-aged students fit this category. Osher scholars must be working on their first undergraduate degree and participate in the Osher Mentorship Program.

"The Osher scholars program at SOU has been enormously successful," said SOU Student Success Initiatives Coordinator Taylor Burke in the press release. "We're projecting a 95 percent graduation rate for the recipients of these scholarships."

It has also made a dramatic difference in students' lives.

"As a single mom and a first-generation college student, this scholarship has been a major help in attaining my goals and my ability to get a job with a real living wage, one that will help me support myself and my son financially and independently," said Osher scholar Annette Dean of Crescent City. "I am incredibly grateful."

"I believe re-entry students bring a unique perspective to the academic environment that is welcomed by both faculty and students," said Osher scholar Paula Richter of Jacksonville, who plans to attend graduate school this fall and study sustainable management of coastal marine resources.

Bernard Osher is known as the "quiet philanthropist." He is a former founder of World Savings, which merged with Wachovia, and was owner of the auction house Butterfield & Butterfield, later purchased by eBay. He plans to give away his entire fortune.

The Bernard Osher Foundation, formed in 1977, supports a growing national network of 117 campus-based Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes. It also provides postsecondary scholarship funding to colleges and universities across the nation, with special attention to re-entry students.