Scholarships are a vital way of closing the gap between students’ financial aid and the constantly growing cost of higher education. That gap causes countless students to struggle, stop out or drop out of college—and at Scholarship America, our mission is to keep that from happening.
However, scholarships aren’t always the whole answer. Even with a scholarship to ease the burden, the cost of attending college can be overwhelming. Books, housing, transportation and other non-tuition costs are often outside the scope of financial aid. Recent research has revealed that housing and food insecurity affect huge numbers of students, leading to higher dropout rates for low-income and community college students, in particular.
For those students who do have a place to live and plenty to eat, the balance between work and school can be a struggle. A vast majority of students from all walks of life have to work while in college, and more job hours mean less time to devote to studying, class preparation and academic planning.
In short, a scholarship doesn’t always mean a student’s financial worries are over, or that they have all the tools they need to excel at higher education.
That’s why Scholarship America believes in the importance of emergency aid programs, which help keep students in school when faced with unexpected financial troubles. And it’s also why we believe in “wrap-around services”—mentoring, financial education and other student supports that make scholarship programs more than just a tuition check.
Case Studies In Wrap-Around Success
The Dell Scholars Program is one model of how wrap-around services can benefit students. Financial awards are a major part of the program, which focuses on low-income and first-generation college attendees, but the check is only the beginning. According to the Dell Scholars website, the program “offers personalized, multifaceted support to our Scholars that extends beyond the financial support of $20,000, a laptop, and textbook credits. We offer students and their families services and solutions to address individual and systemic issues that can create major barriers to student success.” Those services include peer mentoring, counseling and financial aid coaching from staff and even increased flexibility in how the monetary award is used.
Dell Scholars has served more than 4,000 students since its inception. Those students are 25 percent more likely than their peers to earn bachelor’s degrees in six years. Only half graduate with debt, and for those who do, their debt load is half the national average. These impressive results led Scholarship America to present Dreams To Success honors to the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation in 2016; they also led the foundation to develop the Gradsnapp platform, designed to help other organizations provide similar levels of student support.
EduGuide, a Scholarship America partner, is all about personalized coaching. The program grew out of a research grant into using technology to connect with first-generation students; learning from that initiative led to a wider study of mentoring strategies in higher education. Today, EduGuide provides a platform that connects students of all ages with peer and expert coaches. Using simple, accessible online tools, the EduGuide platform keeps students engaged, updated and ready for what comes next.
At Scholarship America, we’re working with many of our scholarship partners to include EduGuide-based coaching as a part of their programs. As is the case with Dell Scholars, this coaching component means scholarships are more than just a check—recipients can access the personal support they need to keep their life, work and education in balance.
Among the highlights of our recent Partner Summit was a student-led discussion of struggles and success. The students who joined us were all beneficiaries of BridgeEDU. Like EduGuide, BridgeEDU is a technology and coaching platform; its focus is “to improve persistence among students of promise (i.e. first-gen[eration], Pell-Grant eligible) to surpass national performance indicators by transforming the first- and second-year experience.”
By focusing on the critical first and second years of college, BridgeEDU helps cover an important “knowledge gap” for first-generation students. People whose parents went to college can turn to family for help navigating the often-confusing worlds of admissions, financial aid and general requirements; first-generation students can rely on BridgeEDU coaching so they don’t miss a step. Advisors work with students to assess skills, match learners with majors and much more, all in an effort to set them on the right track toward graduation. (The company also offers an app called YesU, available for anyone seeking to simplify the financial aid process.)
Paying for college is a challenge, and scholarships go a long way toward meeting that challenge. But it’s still only one step toward the goal of college completion—and that’s why wrap-around services like these and others are a vital component of the overall student support structure.