Scholarships To Support The Causes You Care About
By Matt Konrad
As both employers and the workforce adjust to a rapidly changing world, much of the old conventional wisdom about companies, employees and customers is no longer true. Remote work is no longer just for outsourced tech support; benefits packages are increasingly inclusive of education and mental health; and corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts are not just a nice-but-not-necessary way to give back to your community.
Instead, with customers increasingly putting their money where their values are—and employees looking for work with meaning and social impact—CSR initiatives are a vital part of your company’s mission and identity. And scholarship and education assistance programs can be an equally vital part of your CSR and cause marketing efforts—no matter what causes your company is working to address.
Here are just three examples of how scholarships, CSR and cause marketing can go hand-in-hand in supporting students and bettering lives.
Supporting Gender Equity
The pay gap between men and women is well documented, but did you know that student loan debt also has a disproportionate impact on women’s earning and spending power? The American Association of University Women’s annual survey found that as of 2021, “women owe about two-thirds of the nation’s $1.7 trillion in outstanding student loans.” What’s more, women of color carry a high percentage of that debt burden, with Black women averaging about 20% more student loan debt than white women.
The gap has long been exacerbated by the high cost (and low availability) of quality childcare, and has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey found “women filed nearly 59% of unemployment claims, despite being only half of the labor force.” The struggle to keep up means less money to pay back student loans, and that perpetuates and worsens the whole cycle.
In this case, private scholarships are one option that can help address the issue on the front end: more private scholarships for women pursuing degrees means less debt after graduation. Many Scholarship America partners are doing just that: the inaugural winners of the Navisite Next Steminist Scholarship each received $10,000 awards for study in fields ranging from behavioral neuroscience to environmental engineering, and Adobe Research’s Women in Technology Scholarship supports the tech company’s workforce development and the expansion of gender equity in technology.
Addressing Racial Disparity
The racial disparity in women’s student loan debt is just one symptom of ongoing racial inequity in higher education. Black students make up around 14% of the undergraduate population in America, but earn 10% of total bachelor’s degrees. Black, Pacific Islander and American Indian/Alaska Native students are at the highest risk of dropping out of four-year colleges, doing so at rates greater than 35% within six years. (For white students the rate is 20%; for Hispanic students, 26% and for Asian students 14%).
With financial factors being the major driving force behind dropping out, private scholarship providers have a unique opportunity to help level this playing field. Research indicates 80% of non-white and first-generation students who get scholarships stay in college, compared to 60% of those who don’t.
However, we also need to do better. Students of color and first-gen students are about 1/3 less likely to earn scholarships than their white and non-first-gen counterparts. To close the gap, it’s vital that we build scholarships with racial equity in mind.
In some cases, that means creating programs geared specifically toward those from underserved backgrounds. Scholarship America partner programs like the AppZen STEM Scholarship for Racial Justice, the GoodRx Scholarship for Future Black Physicians and the Knoll Diversity Advancement Design Scholarships for Black Students address the dearth of Black professionals in specific fields. Programs like the new Pega Scholars Program provide opportunities for people of color in the U.S. and globally to pursue aspirational careers.
In other instances, creating an equitable scholarship can simply mean re-thinking eligibility requirements or application structures to be more broadly inclusive—or reaching out to new communities and schools. Remarkable students can be found everywhere, and we need to work to connect them with scholarships even if they’re in situations without guidance counselors, mentors at home or ample free time. (For example, Dr Pepper’s 2021 Tuition Giveaway is taking place on TikTok, truly meeting students from every background where they are.)
Increasing Opportunities for People with Disabilities
Inequity in higher education also extends to those with disabilities, whether they’re physical struggles, chronic illnesses or long-term health troubles. While these students are legally and morally entitled to an equitable educational experience, the added complications of learning as a disabled student often risk leaving them behind.
With 19% of U.S. undergrads reporting some kind of disability, this is not a small or niche group. Rather, it’s a contingent in the millions that does not always have the accommodations it needs. As private scholarship providers, we can help by ensuring our applications meet and exceed accessibility standards—and that our award criteria are flexible enough to account for the struggles some disabled students face.
In addition, if disability access is an emphasis of your CSR work, you can follow in the footsteps of Wells Fargo in creating a scholarship specific to people with disabilities. Or, if you’re in health or medical care, a scholarship for those with specific conditions can be a perfect extension of your work. AbbVie has established a program for students with inflammatory diseases; Bristol-Myers-Squibb and Northwestern Mutual both have scholarships supporting cancer survivors.
Taking the Next Step
The new world of work is one of increased customer and employee engagement, with your company and with the issues facing the wider world. CSR and cause marketing initiatives are crucial, and scholarships can help your efforts impact generations of stakeholders. For expert help in creating an equity- and cause-driven scholarship program, get in touch with Scholarship America. We’re here to answer your questions and help you do the most for students.