Traditional “scholarship season” is here and there’s an interesting tension building within the vast world of scholarship providers. On one hand, most of us agree that we strive to help reduce the financial burden of college for anyone who wants to get a degree. I’ve been involved in overseeing scholarship programs since 1997, first at the Education Foundation for the Society of Manufacturing Engineers in Dearborn, and for a long time now, here at the Community Foundation of St. Clair County. During these many years I’ve seen millions of dollars go out the door.
If a young adult wants to pursue a college degree, and feels a college degree will improve their life, then we’re all about trying to help them pay for it. We’re fortunate to have dozens of endowed funds here at the Foundation to help lessen the financial burden of college. And if you’ve followed our work over these last few years in the areas of ‘young adult success’ you know we don’t just use scholarship funds to pay for tuition and books. Today we use our funds to help young people cover a wide range of life needs and short-term barriers.
Yet there is tension this time of year. Our board vice chair, Patti Manley, passed along this quote to me recently, “Not all knowledge comes from college.” That, in a nutshell, is the source of tension brewing across America. A college degree is not required to be successful in life. There are so many different paths and so many different ways to help young people explore careers that are right for them. As funders, how do we balance our desire to help make the college dream possible, yet at the same time not be blinded to the many faults and shortcomings in the traditional sacred cow of “scholarships?”
To start with, we’ve greatly broadened our definition of “college student.” To us, the image we get isn’t just the typical graduating high school senior who knows exactly what they want to study and what their first job out of college will be. These days we’re trying to be more intentional about young people growing up with a single mom or dad, or someone living with their grandparents. We want to be more open to helping that single mom or dad who is juggling jobs and raising a kid, and trying to improve their life with a college degree. We’re looking for that potential student who would be the first person in their family to get a college degree. We want to hear from that young adult who tried college before and dropped out, but is now older and more mature and confident in what they want.
These success stories and examples have names – names of the beneficiaries and the donors who make our work possible:
At the same time we’re looking for the best and the brightest from every walk of life:
These are a very small sample of the many ways our donors have established endowment funds to help young people pursue their dreams. So from now until our scholarship application portal closes on March 12, we’re asking for your help to share this link to our main scholarship page. Help us find that unique person whose life would change with some help paying for college.
And what comes next? What more can we do together to help young adults pursue “knowledge without college?” I’ll begin to tackle that in my next Foundation Insights.