Leaving Dreams Unfunded: The Disconnect between Scholarship Capital and the Students Seeking It

Over the course of the last three months, I've been studying the "market" dynamics that link students looking for financial support for their education and the philanthropists who put money on the table via scholarships. The goal of our research, co-funded by Community Foundations of America and a coalition of scholarship providers, nonprofits and influencers in Washington called the Washington Scholarship Coalition , has been to define the requirements for a web-based scholarship marketplace that would truly match Scholarship Seekers with Philanthropists (see CFA's site for much more info on the paradigm shift from "search" to "match").

As this stage of the research wraps up, the most interesting and frustrating revelation for me has been the complete absence of systematic information about who needs scholarships and therefore, what I, as a donor, should do with my scholarship criteria to make sure my investment addresses those needs. Let's, for a moment, assume I've already set up the "traditional" scholarship at my high school or my alma mater but I still want to do something "for kids who need it". Well, first of all, a lot of the students who need scholarships aren't "kids." They're working adults returning to complete a degree; they're single parents; they're students in community college programs who hope to transfer to a four-year program. How do I know? Because I've talked to these students (and the "traditional" students, too) and I've read the literature by organizations like The Lumina Foundation that talk about the changing demographics of higher education seekers. But how would you know? Where would you find out that one of the most critical needs in scholarship philanthropy is for funds that can cover child care expenses so that a working parent can get to classes? You'd have to dig around on foundation and other sites doing research to understand the trends and then you'd have to talk with a counselor at a community college or other institution to get their input and then you'd have to decide where to have your scholarship administered and then, after all of that, you'd find out at the end of a process that one student was selected to receive your support. WOW. That really takes the joy out of it, doesn' t it? Do you feel like you've funded somebody's dreams yet?

There's really only two messages I want to deliver here: 1) scholarships are a more critical vehicle than ever to help students achieve the "American Dream" and 2) the face of "need" has changed and their must be better mechanisms to connect the supply of scholarship capital on one side with the students who need it on the other side. Our future depends on an educated, flexible thinking workforce. More of the same isn't going to do it. More scholarship capital, easier located, strategically allocated and efficiently exchanged would be a good start.

Nancy DeFauw

Posted at 6:00 AM, May 15, 2007 in Education | High Net Worth Donors | Scaling Philanthropy | Youth | Permalink | Comments (2)


Thanks very much for that clarification. Infact many people say they are needy, that they need funds yet they are working class. and you find that those real needy ones have been denied. Thanks for that information. Can you please tell us more of how then can a needy person get that scholarship?


Posted by: Ms. Mary Nakirya

The question of how much "need" is enough to merit any support at all is a trap. There are students in lots of circumstances who deserve support and can't find it. That's partly an information problem (not being able to locate scholarships) and partially a supply problem (not enough scholarship dollars and out-dated criteria).

I think the challenge for all students right now is to cast as wide a net as possible searching for scholarships until there are more effective centralized matching systems. This means inquiring at local community foundations, organizations and foundations who are focused on college access and success (you can find these by doing a Google search), local fraternal organizations, and the financial aid offices at institutions the student is considering. And it means talking to everyone the student knows in order to unearth scholarship opportunities. It's hard work.

Centralized matching will have a signficant impact on bringing those opportunities into one place and make the search and match process much easier on students. But the other part of the equation is to change the parameters on the scholarships being created; to recognize that there are deserving students with great potential who come from varied circumstances. And frankly, we need entrepreneurial scholarship donors to look past GPA and test scores as the only measures of potential.

Posted by: Nancy DeFauw