Left High and Dry: Higher Education’s ‘Middle Sixty’

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Each year a new cohort of graduating high school students (and their supportive parents) has to figure out how to find the $10,000-$20,000 a year an undergrad degree or diploma program will cost. They discover there are actually lots of other sources of funds out there: admissions awards, grants, bursaries, scholarships, government grants and loans, bank loans, etc.

But most of them, what we’ve come to call The Middle Sixty, many who really need the financial help, won’t be eligible for much at all.

Corporate Canada and donors need to rethink to whom and how they are giving money to support education—the Middle Sixty is in dire need of some care and attention.

Take a look at any of the scholarship aggregation sites (e.g. scholarshipscanada.com) and you’ll find there’s over $170 million of potential free money waiting for student applicants. Click on any one of the thousands of listed awards, though, and we’ll bet you’ll most often see these main criteria–for the graduating high school student:

  1. High marks, and/or;
  2. Outstanding community service, and/or:
  3. Canadian citizenship or permanent residency and/or:
  4. Demonstrated financial need.

Why are these the most common scholarship and award criteria? Because students who meet them are “easy” to identify and select, especially when there are hundreds or thousands of applicants for any individual award. But, automatically eliminated from this criteria are:

  1. The 95% of students who don’t get 95% averages;
  2. Students who do their required hours of community service, but aren’t inventing the next great Social Enterprise;
  3. The 150,000 or so international students who also have to find the money to pay for higher ed (ask any Financial Aid Officer and they will confirm it’s a fallacy that international students are all from rich families);
  4. Those students who don’t meet whatever the award’s definition of demonstrated financial need is. Let’s be honest—most students are in financial need, otherwise there’d be no student debt!

For these eliminated students, government loans remain a hopeful source of funding.

The Canadian and provincial governments give a TON of money to students every year (billions, in fact)—our student assistance programs are excellent. But there has to be a cut-off point somewhere, so students of parents with ‘good incomes’ (the definition of “good” depends on where you live in Canada) can’t qualify for government student loans–regardless of whether their parents actually have the capacity (or desire) to help fund their higher education.

In a nutshell: the top 20% of uber-humans among us will continuously get into the final running for the merit-based scholarships; the 20% of the population who have the greatest financial need will be eligible for enough student aid to cover the lion’s share of their higher education.

The remaining 60% make up our Middle Sixty ….and they need your help to pay for school.

So here’s a question for anyone with corporate P&L responsibility, or a sales target of any sort to hit: would you ever consider excluding 60% of your company’s prospective customer base? Think of our Middle Sixty as your bonus-makers and shareholder-value creators.

Here are three simple ways to maximize the impact of any financial contribution you or your company is making to education and while you do so, increase your double bottom line:

A) If you fund a scholarship: level the playing field.

  1. Eliminate the citizenship criteria first. International students are prospective customers and employees—for at least as long as they are studying in Canada (and maybe longer as many plan to stay here). Let’s be frank. Corporate objectives are measured on a quarterly, or annual basis, wouldn’t it be nice to add 150,000+ customers to your prospect list? That’s what scholarships do—create awareness and goodwill for the provider—plus patronage and loyalty.
  2. Lower your grade requirements. Do high marks really determine who will be a success in life? Think of the 3 most successful people you know—would they have won that award you’ve created? Would you have won it? There’s going to be plenty of funding for those uber-humans. Really, there will be. Schools use their financial resources to attract and retain the brainiacs. Fund some of the students in the middle of that bell curve.
  3. Get rid of the vanilla. Community service is mandated now—so using that as a criteria (unless it’s the essence of the award itself, as is the case with the best-scholarship-of-all time: the TD Scholarships for Community Leadership. The grade requirement is 75%–community leaders are busy changing the world, not getting 95%. Good on you TD.) is not going to find the truly deserving students.
  4. Give to students ‘in-program’, especially to upper year students. Just like the brainiacs, there’s more money available to graduating high school students entering their first year of post-secondary school, than any other stage of higher ed. College students need the help the most (they are older on average and often have more financial commitments outside of school). Upper year students appreciate the value of a dollar more than first year students do. They will therefore reward any corporation who helps them fund their schooling with loyalty and patronage.

B) Think outside the scholarship box to help student or students who need the most help:

  1. Create something FUN for students, and reinforce your brand at the same time. The most innovative award around is the Stuck at the Prom contest. Graduating students make their prom outfits out of Duck (duct) tape. Entrants are local celebrities and the prize money is huge: $10,000 each, plus $5,000 for their high school. Duck brand duct tape sells thousands of rolls of product to an otherwise uninterested audience and is guaranteed to remain in the entrants’ heart (and closet) for years to come. Two Canadian girls from Leamington won a few years back and got on to national TV as a result—-they entered because they knew they wouldn’t win an essay or marks-based award!
  2. Give where it will help the most. Pick your alma mater or a local college/university (or a few). Get in touch with the head of the Financial Aid department and ask them if they know of any student(s) who could use $100/$500/$1000. After they pick themselves up off the floor, they will be able to (mentally) identify 10-20 students immediately who could never win the traditional scholarships, but would benefit greatly from a little spare cash. $100 is a goldmine to a 3rd year student—it’s 10 hours of minimum wage work. It’s a textbook. A transit pass. It’s food for a long time. There’s an association to which all the Financial Aid officers belong called the Canadian Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (CASFAA). The executive of CASFAA could help disburse larger gifts to multiple schools.
  3. Give where it will mean the most. A grad of an Ontario nursing program from decades earlier wanted to offer a $500 award to a current nursing student at her alma mater. She called the local student rep for the Canadian Nursing Student’s Association (CNSA) and asked if they knew anyone who needed some help. The student rep struck a small committee and took on the task of accepting student applications for the funds. One worthy student used the funds to pay for her CNSA conference fee and the hotel room—which she shared with 3 other students. That $500 went a very long way!
  4. Donate to students, not buildings. This one will get us into hot water, but a donation of $5 million to a financial aid department or to a program that will fund a group of students in need (such as George Brown College’s Food Court Social in support of their Augmented Education Program) will have an impact immediately and over the long, long term on students. Buildings are necessary, but educated, less debt-addled students are more necessary right now for our economy. Those grads collectively can help fund that building once they’ve graduated.

C) If you have some funds or some Aeroplan® Miles you can spare:

Higher Ed Points can connect you to students in need. HigherEdPoints.com can convert your Aeroplan Miles into funds for students and/or other campus priorities. There are many people who would be grateful for your support. Send us an email at info@higheredpoints.com and we’ll get right back to you.

Have anything to add? Send us an email at: info@higheredpoints.com We’d love to add to this list.

About Higher Ed Points Inc.

HigherEdPoints.com, through partnerships with best-in-class and like-minded Canadian corporations, is dedicated to finding innovative ways to help students and families fund higher education. After all, it takes a village to raise a mind™

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