Marquis Penn


OCF Scholarships Propel Students and the State to Success

More than $10 million in annual awards expand opportunity for individual students and help build a prepared, innovative workforce for Oregon

This month and all summer long, more than 3,300 students throughout Oregon are receiving welcome news: They have won at least some of the money they need to pursue their college and career goals, through scholarships from Oregon Community Foundation.

Four years ago, Marquis Penn was in their position — a recent high school graduate interested in the construction industry, trying to put together enough scholarships, grants and loans to make an increasingly expensive college degree a reality.

Last month, Penn, 22, graduated from Oregon State University with a Bachelor of Science in construction engineering management. OCF’s Pence Contractors Diversity in Leadership Scholarship not only made it possible for Penn to graduate in four years, but to do so with a lot less worry, debt and uncertainty.

“I've told the Pence organization many times that college has been a completely different experience, just not having the financial stress. It would have been so much harder if I’d had to worry about making rent and making the car payment and paying for tuition. It also allowed me to do stuff with my friends that I wouldn't have been able to do without the scholarship,” Penn says.

“It’s been a large motivating factor that has allowed me to stay on track, stay focused on my classes and graduate on time. Without it, I definitely would have finished, but I don't know if I would have finished in four years. There are a lot of unknowns if I hadn’t had the scholarship.”


Marquis Penn
Scholarship recipient

OCF awarded its first scholarships in 1976. Since then, OCF scholarships have helped tens of thousands of students like Penn, making it one of the largest programs of its kind in the nation.

As OCF celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2023, its scholarship program has grown to more than 600 funds. Thousands of OCF donors and selection committee volunteers from nearly every Oregon county work with the Foundation to fuel a statewide engine of educational opportunity that changes individual lives, creates a more educated and prepared workforce, and enlivens every region of Oregon, decade after decade.

In 2022-23, OCF awarded


million in scholarships


students received scholarships


of recipients were low-income students (Pell Grant-eligible)


were first-generation college students


were from rural Oregon communities

“It’s magnitude that we’re talking about, where you have more than $10 million every year that is opening doors for Oregonians,” says Matthew Goldfeder, OCF's program officer for scholarships. “OCF donors are helping on a systemic level to raise education levels, career readiness levels, training levels, in all communities, so that Oregonians are ready for the careers and opportunities that are waiting for them, and their communities can continue to thrive.”

Building the workforce Oregon needs

OCF scholarships help students attend four-year and two-year institutions as well as career certificate programs. Some are designed for graduates of specific high schools; others are for current college students, graduate students, and older adults pursuing workforce retraining or higher education.

In each region of the state, students can find OCF scholarships that reflect their communities’ generosity and support for younger generations:

  • From southern Oregon, where each year, roughly 50 graduates of Glide High School and other Douglas County high schools receive awards of $3,000 to $5,000 each from the Ben Serafin Scholarship Fund,
  • to the North Coast, where for the past 45 years the Howard and Edythe Hoedle Scholarship has enabled Clatsop County high school graduates to pursue college degrees and technical training,
  • to eastern Oregon, where three scholarship funds established by Harold Wyatt have assisted 550 students since 1991, awarding $1.8 million to help pay for their studies.

Scholarship funds are established by OCF donors for myriad reasons, often in memory or honor of a family member. They support a wide variety of majors, interests and passions; rarely are donors motivated to create scholarships to help fill specific industry shortages. Yet the desires of donors and the needs of the state often overlap, to Oregon’s benefit.

Oregon employers are “desperate” for more people with postsecondary education or training, especially in the areas of behavioral health, nursing, construction, education, manufacturing, and semiconductors, which face some of the most severe shortages, according to an April 2023 report by the state Higher Education Coordinating Commission.

What’s more, “individual Oregonians increasingly need education or training beyond high school to launch the types of careers that can help make ends meet,” the commission concluded. Of the top 50 growing high-demand occupations in Oregon, 49 require postsecondary education or training to be competitive, from registered nurses to software developers to electricians.

Currently, only 56% percent of Oregonians ages 25-34 hold some kind of postsecondary credential. Educational attainment is substantially lower for students from low-income backgrounds, rural areas, and historically marginalized groups. And Oregon ranks second in the country for the highest share of students who leave college without completing their degrees or training, behind Alaska, according to a recent National Student Clearinghouse report.

The biggest barrier is cost. State and federal financial aid has not kept pace with rising tuition prices, making postsecondary education unaffordable for many families and students. Among Oregon students who applied for financial aid at public colleges and universities in 2020-21, 40% could not meet expenses based on expected resources — including family contributions, all government and institutional grant aid, and student wages from jobs during school.

Individual opportunity, statewide benefits

OCF scholarships can’t close the affordability gap for all Oregon students who lack resources. But for more than 3,300 students each year, they make college or career certificates more accessible. Scholarships also help ensure the state will have enough nurses, engineers, entrepreneurs and other kinds of workers whose knowledge, skills, and capacity to innovate are vital to a thriving economy.

In 2022, for example, 202 students received OCF scholarships to pursue nursing degrees, 94 received scholarships to study psychology, 93 received scholarships to pursue business majors, and 62 received scholarships to study mechanical engineering. (Discover other popular majors in this OCF Scholarship Snapshot.)

Marquis Penn, at right, with Michelle Tilly of Andersen Construction (center) and Olivia Hoffstetter at an event hosted by the OSU School of Civil and Construction Engineering.

Marquis Penn, at right, with Michelle Tilly of Andersen Construction (center) and Olivia Hoffstetter at an event hosted by the OSU School of Civil and Construction Engineering.

Penn, who is Black, received a scholarship created by Oregon-based Pence Contractors to expand opportunity for students of color, who are underrepresented in the construction industry. The award covered about a third of his yearly tuition and expenses; other scholarships, Pell grants, loans, and earnings from Penn’s on-campus job covered the rest.

Penn loves how a construction project demands constant problem-solving. He is energized by collaborating with diverse people in different trades and roles to see a project through from an idea to completion. As an intern at Pence last summer, he was exposed to contract law; ultimately, he wants to become an attorney in the construction industry.

In June, Penn started a new full-time job as a project engineer at Andersen Construction in Portland. He expects to pay off his $8,000 in loans during his first year. He plans to work for a while, save money for law school, and build a career in the Northwest.

“Oregon or Washington are definitely where I want to be,” he says.


Research logo

Scholarships with maximum impact

OCF researchers have delved into understanding which factors make scholarships most effective, so the foundation can help donors design their funds accordingly. Drawing on published studies and interviews with OCF scholarship recipients, researchers concluded that scholarships work best when they are:

  • Simple — with a straightforward, streamlined application process
  • Sizeable — multi-year awards of least $1,000 or more for maximum impact
  • Flexible — so students can cover non-tuition expenses that help them stay in school
  • Targeted — to students with the highest financial need and least access to higher education
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For Penn, who says he was the only Black student in most of his STEM classes at OSU, the isolation was stigmatizing and added stress to an already rigorous academic path. Not having to worry also about how to pay for college came as an immense relief. When his scholarship funds exceeded his tuition and fees, he was able to use the remaining money to buy food and clothes and make car payments. He estimates that scholarships and grants reduced his total college loan debt by about $40,000.

“Students like me, sometimes we don’t have the motivation because we don’t see people like us in classes or in this industry. But I would say to younger people that it’s very doable. You’ve got to have some determination and grit to get through it, but it is doable,” Penn says. “It's not impossible to find scholarships, to get an internship, and get into this industry. You’ve got to have the motivation to do it. The opportunities are out there.”

Support Scholarships

It takes less than you might think to endow a scholarship fund with OCF. Learn more about how OCF donors are investing in Oregon’s future by increasing access to postsecondary degrees and certificates. If you are interested in setting up a scholarship fund, please contact your donor relations officer or giftplanning@oregoncf.org.