Chi Vue, the second youngest of nine children in her St. Paul family, knew that paying for college was going to be tough.

But now the Harding High School senior — and more than 300 other Twin Cities high school students — are getting a major financial boost in their pursuit four-year college degrees.

The Wallin Education Partners said Tuesday that it will give up to $16,000 over four years to 316 high school graduates from more than 50 metro schools. Wallin notified each student of their scholarships by e-mail in April and staged an in-person surprise for six of the students at Harding and four at South High School in Minneapolis to capture their reactions on video for this week's announcement.

The St. Paul-based nonprofit also plans to soon announce the names of 100 students who will receive scholarships for two-year degrees.

Win Wallin, a former executive at Pillsbury and Medtronic, started the scholarship fund 30 years ago with his wife, Maxine, after identifying potential barriers to a college degree. Wallin died in 2010.

This year, the organization will grant more than $7 million in scholarships and support to low-income students hoping to pursue four-year degrees at schools in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota or any historically Black college or university. Over the past three decades. Wallin scholarships have provided about $65 million to about 6,000 students.

According to Wallin, 91% of its scholars who pursue four-year degrees graduate. That compares with about 62% of U.S. students who graduated in fall 2015 within six years of enrolling, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The graduation success rate for those from low-income families is a fraction of that, according to national studies.

Of the 2022 scholars, about 89% are people of color and 72% are first-generation college students, according to Wallin.

"This is a big deal," said Vue, who will graduate this year from Harding. Her father had been ill and unable to work for a time, leaving her mom the sole breadwinner.

"After getting food on the table, there wasn't any money left to set aside for college," said Vue, who plans to major in developmental psychology at the University of Minnesota.

She said two of her eight brothers previously received Wallin scholarships, so she knows how much this award will help her pursue her college dreams.

"Coming from a family that's not financially stable, getting that help is everything I ever wanted," Vue said.

Just as important, Wallin also provides its scholarship winners with an adviser and support throughout their college careers. "They'll be there every step of the way," Vue said.

For Jean Carlos Diaz, Wallin's financial support was "life changing" after he graduated from Blaine High School in 2012. His parents and grandparents could contribute about $200 a month for college, but the rest was up to him.

"I knew I wanted to go to college, but I didn't realize how much it would cost," Diaz said. "It became clear to me if I were to go to college and pursue my dreams, I would need a sizeable scholarship."

The money from Wallin was crucial. Likewise, so was the support he got from his Wallin adviser when his education was derailed during his junior year at Iowa State University in Ames. Diaz had to withdraw from school when he suffered burnout and mental health issues, and later diagnosed with cancer.

"A lot of scholarships come with a lot of conditions," he said. "Wallin is about putting students first. When I was struggling, Wallin supported me."

Diaz transferred to Metropolitan State University and graduated with a marketing degree in 2018. He now works for Wallin Education Partners as its marketing and alumni relations manager.

"My hope is that students get the help they need," he said.