What's Working - A profile of Heritage University - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

What's Working - A profile of Heritage University

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Toppenish, WA -    "What's Working" to help low-income people, who are usually minorities, change their lives by getting an education.

One way to look at that question is to examine Heritage University.

In 25-years, it's grown from 82-students to more than 1,300.

"I would probably be working somewhere at a minimum wage job, struggling," says Amber Lockhart, a senior at Heritage University.

"If not for Heritage, I would've had no opportunity to go to Harvard," says Robert Mazuna, who graduated in 1992.

Mazuna and Lockhart have achieved remarkable success through Heritage University, but say they are just like all the students who go to the school.

"Everyone has an obstacle they have overcome," says Lockhart, "Everyone's life is changing, being built up."

Mazuna grew up with eight brothers and sisters in Grandview.  His parents were migrant workers.

"After I got my degree," says Mazuna, "All my family followed and most got their undergraduate degree."

He went on to earn a masters degree at Harvard University and a career in public administration.

"His name is Nathaniel and he's in the second grade," says Lockhart, pointing to a picture of her with her son.

She had to drop out of high school after she got pregnant.  Now she's set to graduate from Heritage this summer with an English degree, and is applying to graduate schools.

"The people of this community gave me the confidence to pursue developing a full university," says Dr. Kathleen Ross, who has been the president at Heritage University since its inception.

She is a Roman Catholic nun who has taken a vow of poverty.  Most of her salary goes back to charities and the school she works for.

The school started in a small cottage, which still remains on a campus in Toppenish that now includes 18 buildings.

"I think some people at the beginning thought if we succeeded it would be against all odds," says Dr. Ross, "And I think it's because we underestimated the talent we have in our community."

67% of the student body is minorities, 85% are the first in their families to attend college and 90% are on some sort of financial aid.