Joseph Decilos, a junior at George Washington University, had almost “lost his will to fight” for the GW education he’d worked so hard to achieve. The last few years were tough for his family in Harlingen, a town in south Texas on the Gulf of Mexico. Like many families, they have been scarred by loss since 2020—loss of resources, of income and, most devastatingly, of life.
“Going into the pandemic, there were a lot of hardships for my family, including the loss of my nephew,” Decilos said. “He was born with anencephaly, basically without a fully developed brain and skull. And we weren’t able to see him because of COVID restrictions on hospital visitors.”
“Then my brother, his partner and her child moved in with us. And my mother is a teacher. So there were three or four of us trying to get accustomed to online learning at the same time.”
“All of this had a big financial impact on our family,” he said. Decilos, who is majoring in journalism and photojournalism in the School of Media and Public Affairs and the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design, began thinking that he would have to take on loans or leave GW.
Then he learned he had received GW’s Margaret D. Rust Memorial Scholarship, an endowed scholarship that has offered financial support to students since 1997.
For Decilos, the news that he had earned a scholarship “reignited my spark.”
Today, at the start of National Scholarship month, GW announced a major new initiative to dramatically accelerate investments in endowed scholarships to offer critical financial support to undergraduate students. The Third Century Scholarship Endowment Match: Unlocking Access to Undergraduate Education is the most significant fundraising match in GW’s history and will double transformative new gifts to need-based, undergraduate scholarship endowments. This dollar-for-dollar match will exponentially increase scholarships for generations of GW students.
The Match launches with a $12 million commitment from the university, which will double support from generous donors to yield a $24 million investment in need-based endowed scholarships for undergraduate students. The university commitment is funded by a portion of the proceeds from the recent sale of university real estate. Gifts matched by the university will contribute to GW’s endowment and benefit students in perpetuity.
"Scholarships enable our students to realize their full potential, both in and out of the classroom, and endowed funding enables the university to support our students in perpetuity," President Mark S. Wrighton said. "This undergraduate, need-based scholarship match is a critical piece of our commitment to increasing access and retention to the George Washington University for talented students, regardless of financial means. I am excited by what this effort can achieve for GW students now and for years to come."
GW's starting investment in the Third Century Scholarship Endowment Match*
Match for significant gifts*
Minimum donation to establish a new, named endowment fund*
*Applies to need-based undergraduate scholarships.
Support for GW students has an enormous impact on their families and on their horizons.
A scholarship helped Decilos be a pioneer. “I’m not a first-generation college student,” he said, “but my parents didn’t travel far for college. I am the first in my family to go beyond about a 20-mile radius for school.”
Joseph’s parents, Estelle and Fernando Decilos, said the news of the scholarship brought relief, elation and enormous pride during a very difficult time.
“We knew this scholarship would smooth the path on his educational journey, help him focus on his studies and minimize financial stress as we build back up from the pandemic
Endowed scholarships have the power to impact generations of students over time. The Margaret D. Rust Memorial Scholarship, for example, offered critical support to Decilos.
GW has placed special emphasis on raising funds for scholarships and fellowships and encouraging conversation across GW about the pressing need for greater financial support to attract and retain talented students. GW’s Open Doors: The Centuries Initiative for Scholarships, has motivated a 32% increase in donors for scholarships in the past five years compared to the previous five years. GW has continued to step up, increasing its financial aid budget by approximately $2 million per year to support undergraduate students with the greatest need. GW contributes approximately $230 million annually to undergraduate aid, a more than 61% increase since 2011.
“This is a transformative commitment to creating opportunity, reducing student debt and ensuring a strong future for GW,” Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Donna Arbide said. “I’m thrilled to see GW taking this bold step, and I’m excited by the conversations we are having with our GW community of alumni, families, faculty, staff and friends about doubling investments in endowed scholarships. GW students are the problem solvers, caretakers and changemakers who will lead our world, and I can think of no better group to invest in.”
College students at GW and elsewhere face daunting financial gaps. A 2020 survey by The Ohio State University found that 71 percent of all college students felt stress regarding their financial situation, and about 60 percent agreed that they worry about having enough money to pay for school. Unsurprisingly, finances are the most commonly cited reason that students drop out of postsecondary education.
More than 40 percent of GW applicants say that affordability and financial aid are major factors in their final college choice. Even after scholarships, grants, loans, work study and family contributions, approximately 900 incoming GW undergraduate students face an average financial gap of $3,000 to $6,000 that they struggle to meet each year.
“Ensuring equal opportunity for the next generation of leaders is essential to GW’s mission,” said Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Colette Col
‘It’s about thriving’
J.B. and M.C. Shapiro Professor of Media and Public Affairs Steven V. Roberts has taught over 2,000 students in his 31 years at GW, and he’s seen many take on additional work waiting tables or shelving books to support themselves and their families.
As admirable as that work ethic is, he said, it means students may struggle to bring their full, invaluable presence and engagement to the classroom. They may miss “only at GW” experiences because they lack time to join student groups or explore extracurricular interests. Low-paying but prestigious internships abound in Washington, D.C., but the opportunity to take them on isn’t available to someone already working around the clock.
“You don’t have the benefit of our location when you have to work 20, 30, 40 hours a week to support yourself,” Roberts said. “To take full advantage of the GW experience, students need the financial help that can free them at least some semesters from having to work the maximum number of hours. It’s not just about surviving, it’s about thriving.”
GW senior Elizabeth Benjamin took on two jobs to support herself alongside a full course load from the Elliott School of International Affairs. When she received the Edward M. Felegy Scholarship
“The fun, meaningful moments I have spent with others are invaluable, and I cannot thank GW enough for making this possible,” she said.
Jay Goff, vice provost for enrollment and student success, noted that many generous donors have already made the dreams of GW students a reality. “During COVID we saw new levels of need and the GW community stepped up to keep our students enrolled. With community support at all levels,” Goff said, “we can hold the doors of GW open for years to come. Every single gift matters in the lives of our students.”
Like Benjamin, Decilos is grateful to donors for “believing in my ability to keep fighting.”
“My drive for education is rooted in my grandparents’ decision to come to the United States for more opportunities,” Decilos said. “The help you have given is immense, and I will not forget its impact and the drive it’s given me to excel in school.”
But for donors like Steven Roberts, philanthropy doesn’t demand gratitude. Roberts established the Cokie Roberts Tuition Relief Fund, the Dorothy and Will Roberts Prize and a major endowment of GW’s student-run food pantry the Store. He believes giving is in the self-interest of everyone at GW.
“Everybody has a stake in this, because every one of us, teachers and students alike, benefits every day from the presence of people who would not be here if not for scholarships,” Roberts said. “When you give a student a scholarship, you are not just benefiting that student and her family, you're benefiting everybody who comes in contact with her. The community is wider and richer and fuller because she’s there.”
The Third Century Scholarship Endowment Match unlocks access to an undergraduate GW education for future generations of leaders. This is a remarkable opportunity to double investments in undergraduate, need-based scholarship endowments. Learn more about how you can start a new scholarship endowment or substantially grow an existing scholarship endowment to open more doors for GW students. Contact the Office of the Vice President of Development and Alumni Relations at 202-994-1058 or [email protected].