As we enter 2017, we mark the start of a new year and a new semester. Students heading back to school after the break have a clean start and new goals. Maybe this will be the semester someone achieves their first 4.0; for another student, they may just hope to pay their bills on time. A fresh start gives rise to both reflection and revision. And just as students go back to school with added experience and new expectations, Scholarship America is approaching 2017 by reflecting on our accomplishments as we continue to press our mission forward.
Scholarship America distributed our first scholarship in 1958, and since then has distributed a total of $3.5 billion to more than 2.2 million students. The impact we have had over the last 59 years is staggering, and we are proud to have contributed to the academic and career achievements of each and every one of those students. We are also thankful for the number of individuals, communities, corporations and foundations who have joined in our mission over the years.
In more recent years, Scholarship America ventured into the policy arena by opening up an office in Washington DC and unveiling our first-ever Policy Agenda in 2015. This move has opened the door for Scholarship America to be featured as an expert in areas like private scholarships and emergency financial aid. We are especially pleased to have a hand in supporting legislation that called for the early release of the FAFSA, which can jumpstart the financial aid process for students and scholarship providers, and provide earlier information for better decision making.
Though we continue to make an impact in college attainment, we recognize that there is still much to do. A Georgetown University study indicated that the by 2025, more than two-thirds of all jobs in the United States will require some form of educational degree beyond high school. The problem is that with our nation’s current rate of postsecondary attainment we will be short about 11 million credentialed workers—creating a major shortage of workforce and lost individual potential. A driving component to this problem is the skyrocketing cost of college.
Published tuition and fees for four-year public colleges and universities last fall averaged nearly $10,000 for in-state students and quickly grew to at least $15,000 when room and board were added. High tuition rates deter many students from applying. More devastatingly, financial difficulty is cited as one of the main reasons student fail to complete their degree programs. The average loan amount for college seniors graduating with debt in 2015 is now more than $30,000. Cumulative student loan debt in the U.S. is more than $1.3 trillion dollars – spread across 40 million students. Of students graduating from four year colleges, 71% have some level of debt, and for some it is a lot more than the $30,000 average.
To make the situation even more complicated, the face of the traditional college student is changing. Some data shows that as few as 16 percent of college students constitute as “traditional.” Previously, the traditional student was between the ages of 18-22, living on campus full-time and still financially dependent on their parents. The face of today’s student is very different – with nearly half of all college students being older than 25 years old. Often these “nontraditional college students” have their own dependents to support, and many are juggling school with a full-time job with all the demands and expenses of adult life.
In summary, America needs more college degrees, but college is more expensive than ever—and students are facing complex challenges as they navigate their way to get that degree. While the facts seem pretty bleak, they lay the foundation for our work in 2017 and the years to follow.
As we move forward we continue to seek out new pathways and partnerships. This year, we are proud to join forces with the College Promise Campaign, which works with states and cities to create “Promise Programs.” These programs focus on making community college more affordable and accessible—particularly emphasizing a need for the first 2 years of college to be free for all. Our president, Robert C. Ballard, serves as a member of their National Advisory Board.
In addition to supporting positive initiatives in higher education policy, Scholarship America looks to continue encouraging innovative student success programs and developing more partnerships with organizations that are committed to seeing the barriers to access, persistence and attainment of postsecondary success eliminated.
Scholarship America has paved the way for student success for nearly 60 years, and we will continue to adapt to serve the needs of the students of the future.