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Reverse Scholarships launch in St. Clair County

Posted on March 22, 2016

As many Michigan communities struggle to retain local college graduates as a part of their economic growth strategies, the Community Foundation of St. Clair County is set to become the first to launch a coordinated, foundation-based Reverse Scholarship program.

“We’ve taken a fresh look at the long history of traditional scholarships and feel we can have a greater economic impact by reversing the sequence and paying students after they’ve successfully graduated and moved back home,” said Hale Walker, a board member of the community foundation and co-own of Michigan Mutual. He serves as the program’s selection committee chairman in St. Clair County. “At its heart, this is an economic development initiative to lure college graduates back to Michigan.”

Traditional scholarships are awarded and paid on the “front end” of a student’s career.  At that time there are no guarantees the student will complete studies in their chosen field, graduate from college or return back to their communities to help contribute to growth and prosperity.

A “reverse scholarship” is a talent retention program that will pay students on the back-end of their college career. Applicants must have completed a degree in a STEAM related field and agree to live and work within the county.

The Community Foundation of St. Clair County will begin accepting applications April 4. In its first year, the foundation will give three awards of $10,000 each and hopes to grow that to at least $100,000 total within the next few years.

With increased national attention on the rising rates of student debt, along with the “brain drain” affecting mid-west states like Michigan, the new Reverse Scholarship program is drawing political support in Lansing and in Washington D.C.

“It’s great to see our local communities coming together and finding creative solutions to help our state retain the talented graduates Michigan schools are helping to educate,” said Senator Gary Peters. “I applaud the Community Foundation of St. Clair County for their efforts to help students who have completed their degrees pay down their debt and encourage these skilled graduates to join Michigan’s resurging workforce.”

Sen. Peters isn’t the only state lawmaker who feels that way.

“This first-of-its-kind Reverse Scholarship Program is an innovative approach to incentivizing students to pursue a higher education, as well as put their skills to work back in St. Clair County,” said Rep. Candice Miller.  “I applaud the Community Foundation on today’s launch of this important initiative that will be mutually beneficial for students and the community.” 

Michigan Senator Phil Pavlov agreed.

“Despite Michigan’s economic turnaround, many young professionals are still leaving to pursue opportunities elsewhere,” he said.  “I commend the work of our local community foundations in identifying solutions like this Reverse Scholarship program that can help restore prosperity to our region, and I’m proud to assist the effort in Lansing with a Senate Resolution that lets them better engage philanthropy and attract talent at the local level.”

The premise for the program came to Randy Maiers, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of St. Clair County, a couple of years ago while he was assisting a neighboring community foundation, the Huron County Community Foundation at the tip of Michigan’s Thumb Region, with their strategic planning.

“A few of their donors wanted to know what community foundations could do to bring college kids back home after college,” he said. 

For the last two years Maiers, along with Mackenzie Price, director of the Huron County Community Foundation, have worked with the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF) and their legal counsel at the firm of Clark Hill, to plot out a community foundation led effort addressing talent attraction and retention.  The result is this new Reverse Scholarship program. 

“We think this will re-invent scholarships across the country,” Maiers said. 

He anticipates reverse scholarships will appeal to young college graduates in their mid to late twenties, who still have some student debt and are weighing their options for returning home to start a family.

As of now, only the community foundations in Huron County and St. Clair County have secured legal opinions substantiating the charitable nature of Reverse Scholarships. However, CMF is working with elected officials in Washington D.C. to explore seeking charitable recognition by the U.S. Treasury Department; just as traditional front-end scholarships are currently. The Huron County Community Foundation expects to begin accepting applications for their program later this year.

“It is growing increasingly common these days for community foundations to be engaged in conversations about growth and prosperity,” Maiers said. “The Reverse Scholarship program is one more outcome from those conversations.”

Learn more about the Reverse Scholarship criteria. If you qualify, fill out a Reverse Scholarship application.

Questions? Please contact Randy Maiers at 810-984-4761.

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