Scholarships Are No Longer A Prize But Are Vital To Paying For College
I have seen significant changes in the way students finance their college degrees during my 36 years as director of financial aid at the University of Idaho.
Some changes have been positive, like the increase in scholarships made possible by U of I’s generous donors. Others have been more difficult, like the increase in loan debt faced by our graduates. But the most difficult change for me has been the increase in qualified students who are simply not able to attend college — or who drop out — because they can’t pay the basic costs.
Some say students should work more to pay for college, like my friends and I did when we attended many years ago. For an increasing number, they simply can’t make enough money to make those ends meet.
I recently talked with our distinguished Golden I group, 50-year-alums, about their college experience in 1968-69 being paid minimum wage. Back then a student could work 40 hours a week during the summer and five hours per week during the school year and pay for a year of college.
In 2018-19, working at minimum wage would take an average of 48 hours per week for 52 weeks to pay for a year of college. Working your way through college is no longer an option.
We see it every week at U of I. Students are working. They are borrowing as much as they can in student loans. Parents are contributing as much as they can. But it’s still not enough. For over 35% of our students, the cost of a year of college is 50% of their total annual family income.
Students want nothing more than to be able to get a college degree. Scholarships are the only pathway for many of these students to attend college.
Earlier this year, I met with a current U of I student named Sue. She is the first in her family to go to college, has a 3.4 GPA and plans to graduate in spring 2020 with a degree in sociology with an emphasis in criminology. Sue’s parents both work minimum-wage jobs and together earn about $50,000 a year. There’s little opportunity for financial help from home, and Sue’s not alone in her family — her two younger siblings also want to attend college.
Sue stopped in to tell me that even though she works and takes out student loans, it is not enough to cover her college costs. She was contemplating dropping out of college just one year shy of graduation. Luckily, we were able to get Sue some additional donor-funded scholarship support so she can stay in school and graduate this spring.
Unfortunately, we can’t help every “Sue.” We just don’t have enough scholarship funds. Some will start college and drop out while others will never even start college because they cannot see a successful financial path to a degree.
So what has changed over 36 years? Our limited scholarship funds that were “prizes for performance” have become the only pathway many students have to pay for college.
We owe it to our students to give them the opportunity to better their future by obtaining a degree. Scholarship support is a major key to their success.
Article by Dan Davenport
Published in the Fall 2019 issue of Here We Have Idaho.