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Scholarships Help Make The “Big Six” Possible

We all know that a college degree makes a massive difference for students, their families and their futures. Those who graduate from college find steadier, better-paying jobs, and a degree is often the ticket out of poverty for low-income students.

030614We also know that, each year, millions of students start their college education but never finish it—even though they’re aware of the huge benefits they’ll see when they graduate. Millions more do persist until graduation, but they take much longer than the standard four years to do so, and often end up owing crippling amounts of student loan debt as a result.

To figure out what separates students who graduate on time from those who graduate late (or not at all), the Gallup-Purdue Index (GPI) studied more than 30,000 college graduates. In a report released this week, the study discovered six factors that “directly correlate to a student’s ability to graduate in four years, which can significantly reduce the cost of college.”

Their “Big Six” factors are:

  • Having at least one professor who made them excited about learning
  • Feeling professors cared about them as a person
  • Having a mentor who encouraged them to pursue goals and dreams
  • Working on a project that took a semester or more to complete
  • Having an internship or job that allowed them to apply what they were learning in the classroom
  • Being extremely active in extracurricular activities and organizations during college

These factors correlated to on-time graduation across all kinds of four-year institutions, whether public or private, and regardless of selectivity. As Purdue University president Mitch Daniels put it, “Once again, we are reminded that it’s not where you go to college but how you go to college.”

None of the “Big Six” are strictly financial factors. But if you scratch the surface, one more thing becomes clear: scholarships can help more students enjoy more crucial elements of a great college experience. Here’s how:

Scholarships make college choice a reality. At the outset of their college search, just about every student has a “dream school” in mind: a bucolic liberal arts school, a bustling urban campus or a land-grant university in a classic college town. As they get closer to a decision, many of the “Big Six” factors come into play, too. Are there great, encouraging professors? Can they find a mentor in their field of study? Does the campus feel like home?

Unfortunately, even when the answer to all of these questions is “yes,” dream schools often come up against ugly financial realities. Between skyrocketing tuition, high costs for out-of-state attendees and decreasing state funding, financial considerations often mean that students have to settle for the cheapest alternative rather than the best fit.

However, when students can use scholarships to fill their financial need gap, the world of college choice opens back up to them. Even an extra $1,000 or $2,500 per year can widely expand an incoming freshman’s options; the same level of scholarship can also help an undergrad transfer to a school where she will find caring, motivating professors, thoughtful mentors and engrossing projects.

Scholarships also buy time for students. Half of the “Big Six” factors come down to time and motivation: working on a semester- or year-long project; finding a job or internship that applies classroom learning; and being active in extracurriculars and campus life. And while the motivation to find and participate in these activities depends on the student, scholarships help ensure that they have the time to do so.

Consider that 7 of every 10 undergrad students hold some kind of job while in college, and 20 percent of those students work full-time. This workload has risen over the years, just as tuition has; coupled with the demands of school, the need to earn money is squeezing out the ability to participate in activities—and to focus on enriching their classroom work with real-world experience. What’s worse, it’s a downward spiral. With less time to spend on “Big Six” factors, students spend more years and more money pursuing their degree.

Once again, though, scholarships can come to the rescue. Extra money from scholarships means students have to work fewer hours, and they can be more selective about finding a job or internship in their field. By cutting work hours, they’re also free to spend more time on campus, joining extracurricular activities and taking on long-term projects.

In this case, time literally is money. And in the case of all the “Big Six” factors determined by GPI, scholarships provide a hidden but crucial boost.

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