The U.S. Treasury Department announced plans Monday to auction off shares it owns in Exchange Bank this week, raising hopes the Doyle scholarships for Santa Rosa Junior College students could soon be restored.
The sale would help clear the way for Exchange Bank to resume paying dividends, the sole funding source for Doyle scholarships used by generations of students to attend SRJC.
In March, Exchange Bank Chairman Bill Reinking said the dividends could resume very quickly after the federal government divests its shares in the Santa Rosa bank.
On Monday, Exchange Bank President Bill Schrader stopped short of making that promise. It could take a week or two for the auction process to unfold, he said. The final decision on whether to resume dividends would be made by the bank's board of directors, he said.
"I know the anticipation surrounding this, but it's a little early at this point," Schrader said. "The shares have not been sold. They're in the process of prepping them for sale."
For 60 years, an uninterrupted flow of dividends from Exchange Bank powered the Doyle scholarship program, which has helped 115,000 students attend Santa Rosa Junior College. SRJC stopped issuing new Doyle scholarships after the bank suspended dividend payments in 2008.
If restored, the Doyle scholarship would improve access for students who otherwise could not afford to attend college, said Frank Chong, president of Santa Rosa Junior College.
"I'm really looking forward to seeing the Doyle scholarship restored," Chong said. "The bank has been working hard to pay their dividend again, and it looks like we're right there, we're close. So I think it will be a great benefit to our community."
That, in turn, could increase enrollment and the school is concerned about its ability to meet demand, due to cutbacks, Chong said. Whether the size of the scholarship will change remains to be seen.
"The auction is a pretty new process for the banks, so there's a lot of uncertainty," Chong said.