By Erin Delmore
“I received a $250 scholarship and it just meant the world to me,” said Heartland Payment Systems Founder and CEO Robert Carr.
Carr says it took a little help to get to college. Now, the Fortune 1000 CEO is paying it forward, with his Give Something Back Foundation.
“Somebody thought that I was worth a scholarship. I don’t know why to this day they chose me, but they did and it meant a lot,” said Carr.
Carr’s foundation awards scholarships to students from Pell Grant-eligible families. They’re recruited in ninth grade, paired up with mentors, and guided through the college process. The North Jersey mayors gathered at Montclair State University today say it’s a godsend to financially-strapped families.
“I certainly couldn’t have gotten through college or graduate school without scholarships and without assistance,” said Montclair Mayor Robert Jackson.
The Scholarship sends students to Rowan University, TCNJ, and now Montclair State, where Carr presented a $1 million check today.
Only 19 percent of full-time students earn a degree in four years, according to a recent study. Among Carr’s scholarship recipients, it’s 95 percent. While the cost of higher education is climbing, students are taking on more debt, according to The Institute for College Access & Success, 70 percent of New Jersey students carry debt, averaging $28,109.
“One of the things I think is unintended discrimination is to set a low bars for people because they have issues. We want a 3.0 average. And those students who are challenged academically, we do make tutors available, we provide mentors. If a student will meet us halfway, we’ll meet them halfway,” Carr said.
Montclair State Senior Nadia Benton says an opportunity like that would have been a game-changer for her.
“Giving people possibilities at such a young age, who don’t have much encouragement from elsewhere is amazing, because it does amazing things and is very transformative for their character and things of that nature. It actually gives them the mindset that, since I can afford college now, maybe I should actually do well in my studies,” said Benton.
Carr says important school experience — such as live on campus — that’s why scholarship awards full room and board, too.
“It’s something that I never thought I’d have, this disposable wealth that I’ve been able to earn, and it’s like, do I want to buy a yacht, do I want to buy a Renoir painting, do I want to buy another house, this just seems like the best use of the money,” Carr said.
The application process is open to all incoming high school students. The organization says nearly a third of all qualified applicants receives scholarships.