Putting it all in Perspective

Close up of Wall of Money by Hans-Peter Feldmann at the Guggenheim

We’ve made our decisions. Letters go out at the end of the week. I’m thrilled for those who will receive a letter, but my heart aches for the others, the ones who could use our help but aren’t quite needy enough. And we only have so much money to give.

I co-chair the applications committee of a local organization that provides needs-based monetary scholarships to students from our town, who will be entering their freshman year of college in the Fall. Our committee reads all the received applications and other submission materials (once we’ve chased down the unending collection of missing information), crunches the numbers drawn from financial aid forms and school award offerings, chooses the most needy candidates, and allocates a portion of the organization’s allotted funding sum to grant to each of the chosen awardees.

It’s a lot of work, there are a lot of applications to wade through, but it is worth doing every year because it means we can help students who might otherwise not be able to pay for college.

The coastal town in which I live is beautiful. People are drawn to it because of its storied history, its picturesque harbor, and its quality schools. Living here in the summer is like being on a never-ending vacation, and in the winter, it’s not so bad either. It’s not incredibly close to the highway and it is off the beaten track, so if you want to spend the day here, you plan ahead. Tour buses stop here to see the famous colonial painting hung in our Town Hall, the quaint, twisty narrow streets in Old Town, the rocky and sandy beaches, and the aforementioned harbor chock full of sailboats.

It’s no wonder that many consider our town to be exclusive, a place where wealthy people live and wile away the hours drinking Mount Gay and tonics at the Yacht club or walking the forest rich Greens at the nearby private golf club. Admittedly, there have been many moments during the time I have lived here when I have felt like the poor folk, and while we are by no means rich, poor would not define us either. But in comparison to some, sure. We don’t always have it easy. We have to watch our budget pretty closely

But every year, when I receive those applications for our scholarship foundation, I am reminded that I’ve been blessed in many ways AND that just because it appears that the people who live in our town are papering their walls with $100 bills, for most residents (well, I doubt anyone would paper their walls with cash) this is not the case. The range of applicants, from those with absolutely no money to their names to those whose parents have lost jobs or work hard for little pay to those who have lost a parent to illness or live with a sibling with a major disability that significantly impacts the family’s ability to save money for extras like college, always astounds me. I live in this prosperous town where just around the corner from me, people are struggling to pay their utility bills every month or fighting to keep their spirits up because of the difficulties life has dished out to them.

There are moments, wading through the applications, when I get angry about a student who insists on going to a $55K school when there is a decent university the next town over that costs tens of thousands of dollars less to attend. Or at the schools that don’t provide adequate grants to a needy student but make it look like they do when they offer them a Parent Plus Loan (which the families will be paying off for the rest of their lives) for 25K. Or at the parents who fudge the numbers on their financial aid profiles in ways I won’t explain because it’ll make you want to scream. Or at the outsiders who pass judgment on who should receive funding, without having seen any of the numbers we use in our calculations.

But I digress.

Even in communities like mine, where everyone seems to be getting along just fine (or better than fine), there are so many stories, often tragic, of families that can’t make ends meet. Or barely can. I can’t imagine how many more people are in the same boat in other cities and towns that don’t have scholarship organizations like ours and the others that exist in our town.

And I worry about those in the middle, who can’t afford to send their kids to college and pay their bills at the same time, but who aren’t so needy that organizations like ours or the schools have the funds to help them out. Somebody out there may loan them money, but paying back huge loans can be a lifelong burden.

I would love to know if there are organizations focused on those in the middle, who need but aren’t the neediest.  Does anyone know if anything exists that focuses attention and financial aid on this group? I’d love to hear your thoughts.



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10 thoughts on “Putting it all in Perspective

  1. A thought provoking blog, Sara. Complacency when it comes to education scares me to death. These kids are our future. Why don’t we do more to help the ones who need it? We can only hope that the sharp kids will get a future education on their own.

    1. I do think that some kids find their way through the maze no matter the circumstances. I do think a lot about how anybody, unless you are extremely wealthy or receive lots of grants and scholarships, is able to pay for a college education these days. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. I am one of those people still paying off my college loan from grad school. And college for my kids is not that far off so that will be fun. It’s ridiculous that a college education is so cost prohibitive. And like you point out, those in the middle have little to no options other than loans to pay for it. Aggravating. Grrr…

  3. I’m been thinking a lot about this stuff lately because I’m in my middle years and have recently made the decision to get a college degree so I can start a new career. I intend to take what I can at a nearby community college and transfer to a university for the rest, so hopefully it won’t be too bad.

    1. Sounds like a smart idea. You definitely can get a good education at most community colleges. I think younger students want to go to college for the “experience” and often choose at least partially based on how much fun they think they will have. It’s a completely different story as an adult, isn’t it?

      1. Yeah, it is a different story as an adult. I took a few classes at a community college shortly out of high school, but I didn’t have the perspective then that I do now, so I pretty much blew it off. But it turns out I can transfer a lot of those credits, so I don’t even have to start from scratch, which is nice 🙂

        1. That’s great that you can transfer credits. THere’s that expressions that youth is wasted on the young. Having just attended my 25th college reunion, I can say without doubt that I didn’t get the experience I would get now and many great opportunities were wasted. Good luck with getting your degree!

  4. Remember recently when President Obama said that he had finished paying off his student loans just a scant 8 years before becoming president? What do people who aren’t lawyers moving into national government jobs do? And you haven’t even begin to touch the issue of those students who can afford to work UNPAID internships every summer getting a leg up on those who have to work and save every penny they can each summer for the school year.

    1. A lot of injustice and emotions surrounding these issues. I wish I knew how to be more of a part of the solution, or atleast the improvement on the current system.

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