Unless you’ve been in a coma for the last year or two, you know that the cost of a college education is ridiculously expensive for many students, a large percentage of whom are graduating with massive debt (and not many job prospects). Yet, I continue to hear that “there’s money out there” to help our kids offset the costs of higher education. Lemme give you an example.
Several years ago, I became the President of Mount Vernon High School’s Academic Boosters Club (ABC). Before you think “wow, Ron, I’m impressed,” the truth is no one else wanted the job. Isn’t that how everyone become the head of the PTA, the Drama Club, etc.? During my years as President I was surely a pain in the arse to Nardos King but, still, I’d like to think we made a difference, particularly with the distribution of thousands of dollars in teacher grants.
One thing we did was establish a scholarship, which we named the “Lois Passman Award” after the original founder of the ABC. That first year we awarded $500, a semi-impressive number for such a small group, enough to at least by a bunch of textbooks. The criteria was designed to make the money available to not just the 4.0 GPA kids who were all-state quarterbacks and captains of the “It’s Academic” team but to those kids who were floating around in the middle who were not necessarily going to wind up at UVA or the finest educational institution in the country, the State University of New York at Stony Brook. We were particularly interested in getting the money to a student who might be thinking about going to a trade school or a community college.
Our first year we got ONE application. (And, yes, we awarded the money to that student)
We were puzzled. We had promoted the award via email, school counselors, teachers, etc. and only one student applied. I’m told that in subsequent years the ABC got the same kind of response. One year no one applied.
There are a heck of a lot of kids not just at MVHS but other schools that could have used that $500. A few years later, however, when my own son started applying to college, I got a lesson on how this scholarship stuff really works. The fact is that, while there’s money out there, it’s almost a full time job trying to find the money.
What I saw was that my son, Brian, had a mother who busted her butt trying to find the money. Every night after working her full time job, she jumped on the computer doing research on scholarships. She didn’t care what group was the sponsor. It could have been the “Anti-Irish Society” and they still got an application from ole Brian Carter Fitzsimmons, he of the Clan Fitzsimmons. Once the scholarship was identified, his mother then filled out the paperwork which in many cases was like applying for a Top Secret clearance with the CIA. Sure, Brian had great grades, a long list of community activities list and a famous father, but if his mother did not make the time he wouldn’t have gotten all of the scholarships that he got. Indeed, when you go to the annual awards ceremony there’s always one kid who dominates the awarded scholarships and, although they are generally great students, the common thread for most of them is that they had parents who made/had the time to do much of the grunt work.
So, I just can’t help thinking about all of those other kids with good grades and a good resume who fell through the cracks, who didn’t even know about the $500 that was begging to be awarded. There’s a great career center at MVHS and the administrator does her darndest to follow the scholarship announcements and track down the students who might be eligible. But like all administrators, teachers, counselors, etc., they are all overwhelmed with other duties.
There’s gotta be a better system. There’s money out there and there are kids who could use it. If anyone has any great ideas, I’d be happy to pass them on.