Since its inception 21 years ago, the Point Foundation has become the largest scholarship-granting organization for LGBTQ+ college students in the country. In the 2018-2019 academic year, the organization awarded scholarships to 98 students. This year, that number has risen to 552 and is expected to exceed 570 in 2023-2024.
The organization has positively impacted the lives of LGBTQ+ youth across the country, including Jo Lew, who grew up in Coppell, Texas, and came out as bisexual the same day the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage — June 26, 2015.
With limited resources and parents who worked low-paying jobs in the service industry, the COVID-19 pandemic led to their family experiencing homelessness in 2021. Lew persevered with scholarship funds from the Point Foundation to continue their postsecondary education at Southern Methodist University, where they are now a senior.
Lew received the organization’s Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) Scholarship — which provides financial assistance, coaching, and community support. They also received the Flagship Scholarship, which supports LGBTQ+ students as they pursue undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees at accredited U.S. institutions.
“Knowing that there are so many high-achieving, queer individuals that want to help and see other queer individuals succeed is something that means a lot,” Lew says. “I know for me that if I [hadn’t received] Point’s help, I really don’t know how I would have made it through college.”
The need in the community has always been present, says Jorge Valencia, the nonprofit’s executive director and CEO. He attributes the spike in award opportunities to new methods of fundraising during the COVID-19 pandemic. At one time, the organization received over 1,500 applications for only 20 scholarships. This year approximately 1,000 more applications were submitted compared to last year.
These awards can be life-changing for LGBTQ+ students, Valencia says, as higher education opportunities provide hope for a new beginning among those who are not accepted at home or bullied at school. Yet LGBTQ+ youth with a lack of financial support and instability face greater hurdles.
LGBTQ+ adults are more likely (35.4 percent) to have federal student loans than non-LGBTQ+ adults (23.2 percent), with especially high rates of debt among transgender students (51 percent), according to 2021 survey results outlined in the report “Federal Student Loan Debt Among LGBTQ People,” conducted by the Williams Institute and the Point Foundation.
“Many people and companies haven’t always seen education as something that is in a crisis,” says Valencia. “When you look at the cost of higher education to begin with, and the fact that it’s gone up by almost 200 percent since the ’80s, it becomes very inaccessible to some individuals, especially those in our community who might not have the support that others do.”
In addition to the Flagship and BIPOC scholarships, Point Foundation offers the Community College Scholarship, which provides financial aid and coaching to community college students. Research by the foundation finds that nearly one-third of LGBTQ+ people attend community college, and approximately 75 percent of those surveyed reported they were not out to the campus community.
Recently, the organization also announced a $1 million commitment to fight against LGBTQ+ oppression in response to the rise in anti-LGBTQ+ legislative bills under consideration and those already passed across the country. These funds increased the number of scholarship recipients pursuing degrees in the fields of law, political science, filmmaking, writing, education, and journalism.
“As a member of a community that has seen so much hate come at those [who] in many ways aren’t able to defend themselves because they’re young, we wanted to do our part in this fight,” Valencia says.
The Point Foundation has just begun partnering with educational institutions to launch scholarship pilot programs. More details will be announced this summer.●
This article was published in our June 2023 issue.