SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - Five talented college freshmen from San Diego are facing a harsh new reality, after learning the thousands of dollars in scholarship money they were originally promised will not be coming.
The "STOP 2011" scholarship program was a grueling academic competition beginning with an estimated 150 high school seniors last year, narrowed down over several months through a series of essay, letters, speeches and debates to only five finalists. Those teens were promised a total of almost $50,000 in college scholarships funds to be divided among them: a promise that has not been kept.
The five finalists had even been asked to promote fundraising efforts for future scholarships through the program, before "STOP" (which stands for "Stop Taxing Our Pupils") folded.
Now freshmen at some of the country's most elite universities, the students were abruptly informed via email last month by the scholarship program's executive director, Jim Hester, that "because of donors who withdrew their pledges, there are no funds to pay out the scholarships."
"I am sorry," Hester added in the two-sentence note.
"I just can not believe they promised these kids this money and let them work so hard, and then just a quick email, Sorry, there's no money," Kara Jacobson, the mother of Rory Jacobson, one of the finalists, told CBS News 8.
In Rory's case, the La Costa Canyon High grad, who is now in his first year at U.C. Berkeley, had been promised $10,000. Ultimately, he received only $1,250.
"We were pretty shocked obviously," Kara Jacobson added, "because all the way through it, it seemed like a very reputable thing."
In another email, the program's executive director Jim Hester expressed his regret, calling it "the biggest disappointment, failure and embarrassment of (his) life," adding how "proud" he was of this scholarship.
Mark Hanson, president of the non-profit "Heartland Coalition" in San Diego, which had been affiliated with this scholarship program, told CBS News 8 that he feels "terrible" about the current situation, adding "we did the very best we could to cover everything."
Hanson also said he and Hester also paid tens of thousands of dollars out of their own pockets to cover a portion of the promised awards, when the original donors backed out.