High school students heading to Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) Polytechnic will have a chance at being awarded a new scholarship made possible by a $5-million gift from Calgary philanthropist David Bissett, the school announced Wednesday.

The Bissett Scholar Program will give out nine first-year bursaries of $7,500 each year to graduating high school students who are in financial need in Calgary.

"They are kids that can't afford to [go to post-secondary] ... the ones that need it and express that kind of enthusiasm," Bissett said. 

When combined with a second-year scholarship — based on academic achievement — the assistance will be a total of $15,000 over two years, SAIT says.

Bissett said the donation should help improve capacity at the institution.

"That's the nice part about it, every dollar you put in is going to end up creating more space for kids to come," he said.

'Education is the door to opportunity'

The gift is believed to be the largest donation by an individual to a college scholarship program in Canadian history.

“Education is the door to opportunity and SAIT is the place in Calgary graduating students with the skills they need to be successful,” said Bissett in a written statement.

“We have a real mismatch between kids’ skills and the needs of the marketplace. This is good not only for the individuals, but good for the Alberta economy.”

The retired founder of Bissett and Associates Investment Management Ltd. said he wanted to focus his attention on diploma-based, trades and technology education.

“The Bissett Scholar Program is transformational and will change the lives of students and families for generations to come,” said SAIT president and CEO David Ross in a release.

The first Bissett Scholars will start studying at SAIT in September 2015.

Bissett also donated $5 million in 2002 to Mount Royal College, which renamed its business school after him. He donated another $7 million to the school in 2006 to support its continued growth.