Higher education is a passport to social and economic advancement. However, the financial cost and social and emotional challenges of student life put a college education beyond the grasp of many Israelis. In fact, academic research indicates that the best indicator of whether a child will attend university is whether his parents did so, suggesting the close connection between socio-economic background and academic opportunity.
The Rashi Foundation has identified groups whose chances of acquiring a higher education remain slim: Ethiopian immigrants, immigrants from the area of the Caucasian mountains (Russia, Georgia, Armenia Azerbaijan), and Israeli Druze. In 2001, we established the Ephraim Katzir Scholarship Program, named after Israel's fourth president and one of the first members of the Foundation's board of directors. The program aims to help young adults from these disadvantaged populations overcome the financial and social hurdles stopping them from gaining a higher education.
During the three or four years of studies, students receive help with living expenses and the cost of tuition. In addition, they are offered a variety of enrichment programs. At each institute of higher education, a specially appointed coordinator is on hand to ensure that the students do not fall behind educationally or socially.
The program originally targeted students at colleges in the periphery, taking courses that have good potential for employment (technical engineering, education, nursing, social sciences and exact sciences). Over the years, with the help of a steadily growing network of partnerships, we have been able to broaden the scope to include additional groups that are a minority at institutes of higher education, such as veteran residents of peripheral communities, single mothers, college "drop-outs", Ethiopian Israelis at university, and others. From 400 students in its first year, the program this year includes almost 1,500 students at 17 colleges and six universities across the country.
The Katzir program has recently opened a new track: Katzir Social Leaders, which aims to tap the potential of students from disadvantaged homes who have a sense of social responsibility and a zest for social change, and wish to develop their leadership skills during their student years. They participate in a special training program that has been developed with the co-operation of Hillel, IsraCorps and Mi'Mizrach Shemesh, meeting at least twice a month to explore and analyze social Issues and solutions. In parallel, they plan and operate a social project in the community to build their practical experience.
Read how students helped out during the emergency situation in the south, January 2009.
To learn more about the program see the Katzir Scholarship Brochure