In 1954, while serving as executive secretary of the West Texas State College Ex-Students Association, Milton A. “Buff” Morris conceived a concept to assist students with college expenses. In those days, the term financial aid had not been coined, not to mention programs such as Pell grants and federal loans. That is how Opportunity Plan, Inc. came to be.
Mr. Morris realized alumni and friends of the college were willing to assist students, but those donors wanted students to help themselves as well. He also believed students were deserving of a hand up and not a hand out, so he began a loan instead of scholarship program. Besides that, if students paid the money back, Mr. Morris could continue helping students in the future when the capital came back to OPI.
Businessmen and advocates of education throughout the Panhandle region of Texas got on board with Mr. Morris’ plan. Original incorporators included Harvey W. Allen, president; Vernon H. Harman, secretary/treasurer; E.W. “Bill” Boedeker, Ivan D. Boxwell, W.H. Brian, Helen Burnett, Hudson Davis, Bobby G. Dawson, Arthur Glover, Carl Lossen, Mr. Morris, Robert A. Neblett, Zell SoRelle and Roy R. Whittenburg.
The initial $500 contribution, made by Dr. A.E. “Gene” Quest of Lubbock, is still working under those same conditions today. That donation, combined with funds provided by countless donors since, has assisted approximately 6000 students with loan funds borrowed from OPI.
It soon became evident that many of the students receiving funds from OPI wanted to continue their educations beyond a bachelor’s degree, so the program expanded beyond those students just attending West Texas State University. That gave Mr. Morris the desire to assist students from the Panhandle and South Plains regions of Texas, regardless of where they attended college. So, when he retired from WTSU (by this time serving as the first director of the Student Financial Aid Office), he expanded the OPI program, raised money for a new building and moved to the organization’s current facility at 504 24th Street in Canyon.
Since that time, the program has grown by leaps and bounds. Beginning in the late 1970s, mostly at the request of donors and because the cost of higher education was much greater than when OPI began, OPI began managing scholarship funds. The scholarship division has become a significant portion of the OPI program with approximately 175 funds under OPI’s management. For the 2009-2010 academic year, 553 students received more than $742,000 in scholarship dollars.
In 1983, Mr. Morris and Clifford Baker, an OPI alum and WTSU’s director of financial aid, conceived the concept of the Guaranteed Student Loan Division for the purpose of providing student loan-related serves to Panhandle-Plains Higher Education Authority (PPHEA) which was established for acquiring loans through federal government programs. At the time, legislation required PPHEA to contract with a non-profit corporation for loan servicing, and OPI fit that bill.
Following Mr. Morris’ retirement, his daughter Cathryn Morris Wright, who had been an OPI employee for several years, was named executive vice president. Upon his death, Mrs. Wright became president of the nonprofit corporation.
After much evolution and change in the student loan industry, the Panhandle-Plains Management and Servicing Corporation (PPMSC) was incorporated as a for-profit corporation in May 1999, and in November of that same year, purchased the student loan servicing operations of OPI.
That change did not, however, remove OPI from the student loan business as contributions are still being used today for students to borrow at no interest and with no payments while they are full-time students. Today, OPI has approximately $4.5 million available for student loans with 300 students currently borrowing money.
2004 was a milestone year with the celebration of OPI’s 50th anniversary. Throughout the spring, OPI staff and supporters sold raffle tickets for an anniversary quilt handmade by longtime OPI employee Bobbie White. The raffle raised $3,000 for OPI’s programs.
A celebration luncheon featuring Disney Teacher of the Year Ron Clark as the keynote speaker was held in the fall on the campus of West Texas A&M University and culminated with the awarding of 10 anniversary scholarships. Scholarship recipients included John Allen, Heather Wells Hughes, Ashlei Jordan, Brad Lovett, Mindy Rains, Terrill Strader, Matthew Stringer, Randy Thompson, Allison Tinsley and Sandra Reyes Tudon.
In September 2007, OPI alum M. Keith Brown, former executive director of the West Texas A&M University Alumni Association, joined OPI as executive director. Mr. Brown’s vision is for OPI to be the number one source for financial aid education and funds for students in the Panhandle and South Plains of Texas. With the help of continued supporters, OPI looks forward to a bright future continuing to make connections between students and those who want to help them.