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Here’s Why Scholarships are More Important than Ever

Updated April 10, 2019

In 2018 — as in most years in the recent past — Sallie Mae’s How America Pays for College report found that parents contributed the biggest piece of the financial aid pie in supporting students. 34% of college costs came from parental contributions, outpacing the 28% covered by scholarships and grants and the 24% paid for by loans.

Parents were also key players in helping with costs outside of college. Research from the Pew Research Center found that 18- to 34-year-olds are more likely to be living with their families today than they were in the early 2000s, prior to the 2008 recession. The report cited “cyclical labor market conditions” for young adults gravitating toward shared living quarters. The upside of living at home was that more students enrolled or returned to college, gaining additional skills during a rough economic time.

Making that transition to (or back to) college, though, means parents and students are both keyed into the same reality: that the cost of higher ed is often more than what they can afford. According to How America Pays for College, their top concern is rising tuition and fees at schools. The second highest concern was that not enough scholarship and grant money would be available to cover those costly bills.

These realities have forced families to be creative about their payment options; for example, an increasing number of students work while attending school (73 percent, up from 62 percent last year). But they also mean that family circumstances, economic recovery and other factors squeeze students’ ability to pay for their education, even as they try to focus on their studies.

Every student’s story is different, but the financial gap in paying for college is still apparent. By providing sufficient scholarship assistance, we can enable greater success in college, providing backing for deserving students who want to graduate with their degree and give back to society. The support that students receive from their own community instills a greater sense of belonging – and motivation – to make it through their higher education.

The federal government is also keyed into the need for extra support for students: not just college access, but graduation success; not just a one-time award, but renewable awards and other educational assistance. Broadening support for students – including the call to make institutions more accountable – enables greater success for us all.

On the other side of the college journey is higher education leader Jamie Merisotis, President & CEO of the Lumina Foundation. He recently shared how he received a variety of funds for school, from Pell Grants to state scholarships. “But the most important piece of that equation,” he said, “was that scholarship I received from that Dollars for Scholars chapter in Manchester, Connecticut, because that scholarship represented my community. It represented the people that I was accountable to, and it made a real difference in my life.”

And students do succeed, thanks to the supporters who surround them: parents, relatives, teachers, counselors, mentors. Support also comes in the form of organizations, foundations and individuals who wield their influence and passion to advocate for students on a broader scale. It’s the kind of work that Scholarship America and its partners are involved in, seeking to make postsecondary success possible for all students. It’s also what hundreds of Scholarship America Dollars for Scholars affiliates accomplish every day by rallying together and shepherding their students to future success.

While power comes in numbers, even one supporter can make a life-changing impact on a student.

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