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.