Jim Sinegal, co-founder of Costco, speaks to students and staff at Heritage University in Toppenish, Wash. on Monday, Oct. 24, 2016. Twenty students at Heritage University will benefit from scholarships from the Sinegal Family Foundation, a $1.14 million award which will pay for the students’ costs of tuition and books for four years of study. (SHAWN GUST/Yakima Herald-Republic)

TOPPENISH — A $1.14 million donation will provide full tuition and books for 20 Heritage University students over the next four years.

The Sinegal Family Foundation donation was inspired by seeing how the university can transform lives, said Jim Sinegal, Costco co-founder and former CEO.

“I’ve been an advocate of education for a long time,” said Sinegal. “I think oftentimes the primary obstacle for keeping these young people from getting an education is the financial challenge.”

“I was invited over and the students took me around and showed me the whole campus, and they were so proud of the place,” Sinegal said.

Sinegal, 81, co-founded Issaquah-based Costco with Jeff Brotman in 1983 and served as CEO from 1983 through 2012. He said he was moved to create the scholarships by current Heritage students, as well as seven Heritage graduates working in the information systems department at Costco headquarters.

“I gotta tell ya, they’re the ones that really inspired me to do this — they’re just fantastic young people,” Sinegal said.

Heritage opened in 1982 as a nonprofit independent college with the goal of making higher education accessible to an educationally isolated multicultural population in the Yakima Valley and beyond. There were 75 undergraduates enrolled in the school’s first year.

The school reported 1,092 students seeking bachelor’s or advanced degrees in fall 2016, the most recent statistics available. Nearly 70 percent of students identified as Hispanic/Latino, and 11 percent identified as Native American or Alaskan Native.

The scholarships will be awarded to incoming and existing first-year students pursuing a four-year degree, and the recipients also will have the opportunity for regular interaction with Costco leaders.

Sinegal said he’s already planning on taking the seven Heritage graduates now employed by Costco to the university a few times a year to meet with the scholarship recipients and to mentor them. He said those employees will be best at mentorship because they’re all success stories who will be able to relate to the students.

“I’m not gonna change the world, but maybe I can make a few differences in a few lives,” Sinegal said.

Heritage University President Andrew Sund said the scholarships will be the most highly sought in the university’s history, not only for the full tuition they provide but also for the opportunity for recipients to interact with Costco employees and study the management practices that have made Costco one of the most successful retail companies in the world.

Scholarship candidates in all fields are welcome to apply online at husoar.com. They will be evaluated on their commitment to pursuing their education as well as their commitment to giving back to their communities. The deadline for applications is Jan. 26.

Heritage’s tuition fee for 2017-18 is $17,824 per year for undergraduates, according to the school website. The tuition fee does not include cost of books or numerous other college-related fees.

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