Without the Charlottesville Scholarship Program, four-year college would be little more than a pipe dream for Charlottesville High School senior Robyn Hightman.

Hightman, who said she applied to and was accepted at 25 different schools, lives in foster care, and will become financially independent when she turns 18.

“This scholarship is more of a determining factor for me because once I turn 18 and am out of the system, I am on my own financially,” said Hightman, who plans to double major in art education and painting at Virginia Commonwealth University. “This scholarship is unique in that it is a four-year program, whereas many scholarships are just first year.”

Fellow CHS senior Justice Howard, who plans to study psychology at the University of Virginia this fall, said she is relying on the money to take some of the financial burden off her mother.

“I get to go to college,” said Howard, who plans to become a criminal profiler. “It is less money for my mom to have to pay back and for me to have to pay back once I am done with school.”

Hightman and Howard are among 10 CHS seniors chosen from among 20 applicants for this year’s awards. The scholarships provide money for every year of school, and increase each year.

The students were recognized Monday with a banquet at CitySpace.

Howard is the first member of her family to be accepted to a four-year college.

Starting this year, each student awarded a scholarship will be matched with a mentor, called a navigator, to help guide them through the challenges and rigors of university life.

“That’s a really powerful thing,” said Charles Dassance, chairman of the program’s board of directors. “If you can form a real strong powerful relationship with the kids, it makes a lot of difference.”

Navigator Vera Rose said she hopes to provide the kind of guidance she would want for her own child.

“I really hope that I can be some kind of support, and I have a child in college, too, and she calls me whenever she needs help,” Rose said. “I really like that aspect. I don’t want the person to feel discouraged about anything … I think it is important for them to have someone they can call.”

The program started in 2001 with a $250,000 endowment from the city. Since then, the scholarship has helped nearly 100 students to afford higher education.

The program, which is set up as a fund within the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation, gets continued funding exclusively through donors, said board member Linda Seaman.

First-year recipients get $1,500 this year, Dassance said. The amount increases by $500 each year, reaching a final installment of $3,000 if the student goes to a four-year school.

“It doesn’t have to be a four-year program, it could be a two-year program,” Dassance said. “They could go to Piedmont Virginia Community College in nursing, or whatever they want to do. It is pretty flexible in that regard.”

Charlottesville School Board member Juandiego Wade said the money makes an important difference to students often faced with tough financial realities.

“College is so expensive, even if you go to PVCC now, it is expensive,” said Wade, who served on the scholarship selection committee. “If you are going to a four-year college, even if it is in-state, it could be $15,000, $20,000 or $30,000 a year, so every little cent that you can give makes a difference.”