FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) –  It’s made higher education a reality for hundreds of people in the region. Now, the Questa Foundation is growing again and looking to help even more aspiring students.

As the cost of college continues to rise, paying for a degree is becoming more and more difficult for many. That’s where Questa comes in. By offering forgivable loan programs, it empowers students to own and fully invest in their education.

21-year-old Braeden Holle is just one of those students. For the last three years, he’s interned at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo as a giraffe keeper. Holle’s love for animals brought him to IPFW.

“I’m majoring in biology with a concentration in ecology and evolution,” Holle said.

The college junior said Questa gave him the chance to chase his passion.

“I feel like I would’ve had a bigger debt or that constant worry that I wouldn’t have been able to pay it off or make it through school,” Holle said.

Holle is just one of the hundreds of Questa success stories.

“Over 75% of our students are graduating in four years. Over 90% are graduating in five years,” Questa Foundation Executive Director Marc Levy said. “Questa is really about three things. It’s about increasing access to post-secondary education. It’s about helping individuals complete their education with less debt. It’s about our ability to retain that talent here in the region.”

Questa offers different types of loans depending on a student’s situation. The money can go towards any public or private institution in Indiana, but the regional schools will also help pay parts of the loan. By attending a regional school and staying in the region for five years, students can get up to 75-percent of the loan forgiven. More than 2/3 of Questa scholars stay in the region.

“This is about investing in people. It’s about developing our human capitol, not just our physical capitol. It’s not just the buildings. It’s also about the people. It’s an investment in people, and the return on that investment has a very, very quick return to help us to grow our economy,” Levy said. “We’re about helping this community and the individuals in the community be able to thrive individually with good jobs that pay good wages and a community that has the talent to be able to not only economically thrive, but to grow and to continue to grow so there’s career opportunities for individuals here. Communities that have a workforce that’s prepared for the economy of the 21st century are going to thrive. Those that don’t are going to struggle to survive.”

Since Questa focuses primarily on loans, parents said it also teaches fiscal and academic responsibility.

“Questa drives them to succeed in a way that mom nagging just isn’t going to do that because their grades are a part of this,” parent of two Questa scholars Mitch Sheppard said. “When we first started out, it was part of a financial package. It was part of figuring out how we were going to pay for college, but it’s really become a moral and an ethical piece for our family since then.”

It’s a program that’s cutting down on the cost while giving students a priceless gift.

“A degree, they can never take away from you. Possessions will come and go in your life. Money will come and go in your life. Your education is forever. You will never stop using it, and it will never stop being a benefit for you and your community,” Sheppard said. “Our best and brightest are as good as any of the best and brightest from any school system out there. I obviously believe that or I wouldn’t have put my own children there. The thing about Questa is it’s bringing them back. We don’t have beaches. We don’t have mountains. We don’t have incredible natural resources that some of the areas that are drawing young people to do have, but what we have here, we have a bedrock of community.”

If you’d like to apply for a Questa loan, the application window is open from March 1st to May 1st.

“You may think that you don’t qualify. You may think that you’re not quite the right fit, but you would be surprised how open this program is, how very many people they’re serving, and how diverse the pool of Questa scholars is,” Sheppard said.