Berkeley Community Scholars

Support. Equity. Success.

aka BCS   |   Berkeley, CA   |


Berkeley Community Scholars bridges the opportunity divide for college-bound Berkeley youth by providing need-based scholarships, connections, and other support instrumental to success in college and beyond.

Ruling year info


Executive Director

Sherry Ann Smith

Main address

PO Box 680

Berkeley, CA 94701-0680 USA

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Formerly known as

Berkeley Community Fund



NTEE code info

Scholarships, Student Financial Aid, Awards (B82)

Youth Development Programs (O50)

IRS filing requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

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Programs and results

What we aim to solve

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

BCS is working to increase the college success and completion rate among Berkeley youth who are from families in the lowest economic quartile, are in the first generation of their family to attend college, and/or who are students in racial or ethnic groups that have been historically underrepresented on college campuses. Year-to-year, about 140 talented and motivated Berkeley High School seniors are in the demographic group described above. They are ready for and gain admission to college but need financial and other support to overcome obstacles to completion and cross the finish line. College is a driver of socioeconomic opportunity. With a college degree, these youth will have more well-paying career opportunities, will be less likely to face unemployment during economic shocks, and will earn approximately $1 million more over their lifetimes than those without a college degree. A college degree is a step toward closing the income, wealth, and health gaps.

Our programs

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

High Hopes Bachelors Degree Program

The Bachelors Degree Program is a need-based college success program for Berkeley public high school graduates who attend a bachelor's degree-granting college or university immediately after high school. Participants in this program are primarily from the lowest economic quartile, are in the first generation of their family to attend college, and/or are students of color who represent groups that are typically underrepresented at bachelor's degree-granting colleges and universities.

The program provides three tiers of service: (1) Scholarship dollars to help close the gap between the true cost of attending college and financial aid received; (2) Case management and coaching by professional College Success Advisors (CSA) who support students through academic, socio-emotional, and financial decisions; and (3) Mentorship from community volunteers who provide moral support and share their social capital and connections. The scholars must attend college full-time and maintain a GPA of 2.0 or higher, complete annual academic plans, and regularly communicate with their CSA to receive up to $16,000, paid over 4-years ($2,000/semester or $1,333/quarter). Scholars who need more than 4-years to finish their degree, need to take a leave of absence from school, or find themselves on academic probation continue to receive the case management and coaching services provided by their CSA until they formally leave our program.

Population(s) Served
Economically disadvantaged people

The Community College Program helps Berkeley public high school graduates advance on a path to earn a bachelor’s degree that begins with attending community college. The program serves students who graduated from high school within the four years preceding their application for the scholarship. These scholars are primarily from households in the lowest economic quartile, are in the first generation of their family to attend college, and/or are from an ethnic group typically underrepresented in higher education.

The community college scholars, who must attend college full-time and maintain a GPA of 2.0 or higher, receive $1500 during their time in community college. They also must submit updates to their college success advisor, participate in quarterly workshops to support their efforts to transfer to a bachelor's degree, and participate in Berkeley Community Scholars events, if available during summer and school breaks.

Participants in this program who successfully transfer to a bachelor's degree institution are eligible to apply for a Berkeley Community Scholars Transfer Scholarship, which provides $8,000 over 2-years ($2,000/semester or $1,333/quarter) while they complete their bachelor's degree, along with services provided by our Bachelor's Degree Program.

Population(s) Served
Economically disadvantaged people

The Finish Line Fund allows our scholars to apply for funding beyond the original scholarship grant. The purpose is to help reduce obstacles that might prevent them from completing their undergraduate degree and/or to allow them to participate in educational opportunities that would enhance their preparedness for post-baccalaureate careers or educational pursuits.

In order to help scholars anticipate their financial needs and graduate within 4-years, Berkeley Community Scholars (BCS) works with students to develop thoughtful educational plans. The College Success Advisors (CSA) meet with freshman scholars during the summer before their first year to review their financial aid awards, to explain BCS policies, and to help scholars plan their classes. The CSAs continue to meet scholars throughout their college years to determine how many units are required to graduate and options that would allow the student to graduate "on-time." If the scholar is unable to graduate within 4-years, the CSA helps the student explore existing resources, scholarships, and work opportunities to help finance additional semesters.

BCS is committed to helping students successfully graduate, pursue post-graduate opportunities, and find meaningful employment. If students have participated in the above efforts and still require additional funding, they may apply for funds.

Population(s) Served
Economically disadvantaged people

Level Up is a personal development and career guidance program developed in response to requests from our scholarship recipients for help in overcoming barriers in their transition from college to professions due to a lack of relevant exposure and experience. The program offers customized workshops and a project-based curriculum designed to simulate the virtual workplace and cultivate key skill sets that prepare students for the collaborative and flexible workplace. It facilitates the development of self-confidence in their skills, knowledge, and abilities that will enable them to thrive in a professional setting. It also provides tools that enable students to leverage mentors and build professional networks throughout their college career. It also provides opportunities for participants to interact with select internships and employment opportunities.

The program is a pilot program that will be in its second phase in FY2023.

Population(s) Served
Ethnic and racial groups
Young adults
Low-income people

Where we work

Our results

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

How does this organization measure their results? It's a hard question but an important one.

Number of students who receive scholarship funds and/or tuition assistance

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Type of Metric

Output - describing our activities and reach

Direction of Success


Context Notes

This is the number of NEW scholarships awarded each year. The numbers in 2018 and 2019 reflect our community college pilot program. Total scholars served by all programs each year is about 140.

Our Sustainable Development Goals

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn more about Sustainable Development Goals.

Goals & Strategy

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn about the organization's key goals, strategies, capabilities, and progress.

Charting impact

Four powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

Berkeley Community Scholars (BCS) believes a college degree is a big step toward closing the income, wealth, and health divides in the U.S. and in Berkeley.

In 2015, the median income for Berkeley males with only a high school diploma was $26,500 compared to $50,800 for males with a bachelor's degree and $75,000 for those with a graduate degree. The median income for females with only a high school diploma was $29,000 compared to $41,300 for those with a bachelor's degree. Berkeley is a highly educated city -- 70.9% of residents age 25 and older have a bachelor's degree and 38.1% have a professional or graduate degree. Educational attainment varies greatly by race and ethnic group and, subsequently, so does income, wealth and health.

At Berkeley High School, about 30% of students are classified as socio-economically disadvantaged. Year-to-year, about 140 graduating seniors in this group meet the requirements for admission to the University of California or California State University systems and would be in the first generation of their family to attend college. Access to college is not a problem for most of them. Affordability and persistence are the greater challenges, given the obstacles they encounter. Students have the ability but not the social or financial safety nets that foster success.

Berkeley Community Scholars' programs were developed to address the needs of these students. The program started in 2008 (when we were known as Berkeley Community Fund), and has grown ever since.

The primary goals are for our scholars to graduate with a bachelor's degree within 6-years (whether they start their journey at community college or at a bachelor's degree-granting institution) with a manageable amount of debt, and with the tools they need to shape a successful career. Further goals are for our scholars, within 2-years of graduating, to be in a career-track job or on-track for graduate school and engaged in our alumni council community.

We envision a more equitable future in which our scholars, who embody the diversity, spirit, and values of our community, achieve their aspirations and become more economically secure.

We would like to expand our services to more Berkeley youth from the demographic group that we serve.

Our program strategies encompass the following:

Scholar Selection. We recruit applicants who are living in the lower economic quartiles, who are in the first generation of their family to attend college, and/or from backgrounds that are underrepresented on college campuses.

Direct Financial Aid. We provide scholarship funds to fill the gap between financial aid and the real costs of college.

Guidance, Support, and Empowerment. BCS staff explain and assess student loans and student aid packages, provide transition-to-college and other workshops, guide students with goal-setting throughout college, encourage a growth mindset, and connect students to resources. Volunteer community mentors provide life and career mentoring and connections to their social capital.

Employability. BCS works with scholars to develop career plans, which are updated annually. We provide access to workshops to build skillsets, to internships, and to informational interviews.

Community Building. BCS offers events and connections to "near peer" networks on campuses attended by other BCS scholars, to foster a sense of belonging. Supporters also share their social capital, giving scholars access to opportunities outside of their own social networks.

Our program services are carried out by a well-credentialed, experienced, and exceptionally caring professional staff. Our high-touch approach has led to high success - as of December 2021, 77% of our scholars have stayed the course and earned a bachelor's degree within 6-years of starting our program, which is about six times the rate of their national peers.

Our staff, volunteer community mentors, and board members reflect the diversity and experience of the scholars we serve. Mentor/Mentee matches are made based on gender, career aspirations, and interests. Students highly value these collaborative teams who believe in them, "have their backs," understand the challenges and rewards of college, and provide an otherwise "missing piece" on their path to college success.

Our programs fund and support students who start at community college and plan to transfer to a bachelor's degree-granting school and students who attend a bachelor's degree-granting school immediately after graduating from high school. The framework of support for these two paths is based on best-practices, lessons-learned from pilot programs, and scholar feedback. We regularly collect feedback from our scholars to determine how well our program meets their needs and incorporate it into our program planning. We also have two alumni of our program serve on our board. The alumni provide us with scholar perspectives as we create policies and make decisions.

BCS is well-managed and takes a measured approach to scaling its programs. The High Hopes Scholarship Program (which encompasses our bachelor's degree and community college scholarships) started in 2008 with one part-time administrator serving 8 scholars and 8 volunteer mentors. As of Spring 2022, BCS had 5 full-time and 1 part-time staff and 100+ volunteer mentors serving 140 scholars. We use a dynamic financial model to forecast how the addition of each new scholar impacts program overhead and resources, including the caseload of our college success advisors and the quality and delivery of program services.

We collaborate with other community organizations to learn from their experience and to ensure we complement, rather than duplicate, services provided by others.

Our diverse and dedicated board of directors contributes financially at 100% and contributes immensely to the scholarship funds and programs offered to our scholars.

Our scholarship program was established in 2008, when Berkeley Community Scholars (then known as Berkeley Community Fund) decided to focus on providing scholarships to Berkeley youth pursuing bachelor's degrees. We started with 8 scholars, 8 mentors, and a PT administrator. In 2012, we received a capacity-building grant to hire a full-time executive director who was familiar with best practices at other scholarship organizations, to increase the number of scholarships granted and to build the support structure for achieving our mission. Next, we hired a college success advisor to serve as a case manager for our students. Our goal was to serve 100 scholars at a time by granting at least 25 new scholarships each year. As the number of scholarships increased, we hired a second college success advisor to serve students and to professionalize our mentoring program. The support provided by the college success advisors and mentors has been instrumental to the success of our scholars.

In 2015, we established a Finish Line Fund to allow our scholars to apply for funding beyond the amount of their original scholarship. The purpose is to help our scholars overcome obstacles to completing their BA/BS degree and/or to allow scholars to participate in educational opportunities that would enhance their preparedness for post-baccalaureate careers or educational pursuits.

In 2017, we learned that 40% of the Berkeley High students in the lower economic quartiles start at community college. Knowing students in this group are less likely to complete college, we created a pilot program to help them succeed. We secured a $250K grant for this pilot from Bayer USA and smaller grants from the City of Berkeley and the UC Chancellor's Community Partnership Fund. We applied lessons learned from the pilot to the design of the program, and it is now a permanent program. Our Community College scholars who successfully transfer to a 4-year college are eligible to apply for an additional $8,000 scholarship (paid in increments during each semester or trimester).

When many of our scholars were severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, we created an Emergency Fund to help them overcome the economic shocks of the pandemic and continue their focus on school. We also added mental health support.

In response to our scholars' requests for help with career connections, we created LevelUp, a new pilot program that provides career coaching and guidance, professional and personal development and training, and access to career opportunities.

Our program has grown since 2008. Today about 140 scholars actively participate in our program. These students are supported by 4 professional college success advisors and over 100 volunteer community mentors. Measuring from 2008-2021, 86% of our scholars have graduated or persist toward earning their degree. The program has come full-circle, in that alumni are now sitting on our board, donating funds, and mentoring our newest scholars.

How we listen

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Seeking feedback from people served makes programs more responsive and effective. Here’s how this organization is listening.

done We shared information about our current feedback practices.
  • How is your organization using feedback from the people you serve?

    To identify and remedy poor client service experiences, To identify bright spots and enhance positive service experiences, To make fundamental changes to our programs and/or operations, To inform the development of new programs/projects, To strengthen relationships with the people we serve, To understand people's needs and how we can help them achieve their goals

  • Which of the following feedback practices does your organization routinely carry out?

    We collect feedback from the people we serve at least annually, We take steps to get feedback from marginalized or under-represented people, We aim to collect feedback from as many people we serve as possible, We take steps to ensure people feel comfortable being honest with us, We engage the people who provide feedback in looking for ways we can improve in response, We act on the feedback we receive, We tell the people who gave us feedback how we acted on their feedback

  • What challenges does the organization face when collecting feedback?

    We have to reach out through multiple channels to encourage the students we serve to submit feedback


Berkeley Community Scholars

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The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.


Connect with nonprofit leaders


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Connect with nonprofit leaders


Build relationships with key people who manage and lead nonprofit organizations with GuideStar Pro. Try a low commitment monthly plan today.

  • Analyze a variety of pre-calculated financial metrics
  • Access beautifully interactive analysis and comparison tools
  • Compare nonprofit financials to similar organizations

Want to see how you can enhance your nonprofit research and unlock more insights? Learn More about GuideStar Pro.

Berkeley Community Scholars

Board of directors
as of 07/14/2022
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board co-chair

Gwyneth Galbraith

Board co-chair

Janet Tam

Noll + Tam Architects

Term: 2022 - 2024

Carol Brosgart, MD


Martin De Mucha Flores

Berkeley City College

Rashida Hanif

RepresentEd Leadership

Marcus Ison


Eric Jung


Rosa Luevano

Community Volunteer

Ursula Rodriguez

Community Volunteer

Tina Self


Ina Bendich

Creative Educational Consultants

Lila Beckford

Retired CPA

Ann Smulka

Strategic Arts

Adena Ishi


Ilse Daniella Rueda Hernandez


Board leadership practices

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

GuideStar worked with BoardSource, the national leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, to create this section.

  • Board orientation and education
    Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations? Yes
  • CEO oversight
    Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year ? Yes
  • Ethics and transparency
    Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year? Yes
  • Board composition
    Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership? Yes
  • Board performance
    Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years? Yes

Organizational demographics

SOURCE: Self-reported; last updated 7/14/2022

Who works and leads organizations that serve our diverse communities? Candid partnered with CHANGE Philanthropy on this demographic section.


The organization's leader identifies as:

Race & ethnicity
Black/African American
Gender identity
Female, Not transgender (cisgender)
Sexual orientation
Heterosexual or straight
Disability status
Decline to state

Race & ethnicity

Gender identity


Sexual orientation


No data

Equity strategies

Last updated: 05/26/2022

GuideStar partnered with Equity in the Center - an organization that works to shift mindsets, practices, and systems to increase racial equity - to create this section. Learn more

  • We review compensation data across the organization (and by staff levels) to identify disparities by race.
  • We ask team members to identify racial disparities in their programs and / or portfolios.
  • We disaggregate data to adjust programming goals to keep pace with changing needs of the communities we support.
  • We employ non-traditional ways of gathering feedback on programs and trainings, which may include interviews, roundtables, and external reviews with/by community stakeholders.
  • We disaggregate data by demographics, including race, in every policy and program measured.
Policies and processes
  • We seek individuals from various race backgrounds for board and executive director/CEO positions within our organization.
  • We have community representation at the board level, either on the board itself or through a community advisory board.
  • We help senior leadership understand how to be inclusive leaders with learning approaches that emphasize reflection, iteration, and adaptability.
  • We engage everyone, from the board to staff levels of the organization, in race equity work and ensure that individuals understand their roles in creating culture such that one’s race identity has no influence on how they fare within the organization.