Marty Burbank was going to buy a sailboat.
He and his wife, Seon Chun-Burbank, have done well. The couple were the first in their families to go to college. Now, Marty is a Navy veteran and works as an elder care attorney. Seon is a college professor. The couple love the water and even tied the knot on a yacht.
Why not enjoy the spoils of their hard work and set their sights on the high seas?
But instead of buying a boat, the Burbanks decided to invest in their community.
Through church, the couple met Tessa Ashton, a kindergarten teacher at Rio Vista Elementary who was working with a classroom of English-language learners. For the past four years, Marty has volunteered and donated supplies and money to the Anaheim, California, elementary school and its teachers.
After hearing a sermon about charity, they crunched the numbers, and the choice was clear.
“For the cost of buying a boat and the maintenance and the storage over the next 12 years, I can put these kids through school, and that seemed like a better investment,” Burbank told local news channel FOX 11.
And that’s exactly what they did.
The couple pledged to pay for two years of community college and two years at a California state university, or the equivalent amount, for all 26 of Ashton’s kindergarten students.
To receive the funds, each child has to complete a drawing or essay each year about what going to college means for their future and their family.
The price tag for the project is around $1 million.
For the Burbanks, it means delaying retirement and sticking to dry land a little longer.
“They say give until it hurts a little, and this hurts. But we feel it’s the best investment we could make,” he told CNN.
For the parents and families of the students, this announcement opens a world of possibilities.
But it shouldn’t have taken an extreme act of kindness to make it happen.
Despite an increase in federal student aid and school scholarships, the proportion of recent high school graduates from low-income families who enroll in post-secondary programs has dropped significantly over the last eight years.
In 2013, 45.5% of low-income students enrolled in college, as opposed to 78.5% of students from high-income families.
While tuition plays a role, the net price (the grand total students actually pay, think fees, supplies, tuition) at two-year schools has actually decreased over the years, and has increased modestly at four-year institutions. But the perceived cost of college may be enough to keep some students from even pursuing the option.
So while this offer is life-changing and incredibly generous, it’s not a silver bullet.
Marty never intended for the story to make national, or even local news, but now that it has, he’s hoping to inspire others.
While most people can’t afford to send a class of students to college (cough, cough, Michael Scott), those with and without means can donate supplies, resources, and their time to support kids in need. Whether you’re donating a million bucks or 30 minutes of your time, every little bit helps.
Here’s to the class of 2028, now the university-graduating class of 2032!