Last week, the country celebrated with recent Morehouse College graduates as they learned that their entire student loan debt had been cancelled by billionaire philanthropist and 2019 commencement speaker, Mr. Robert F. Smith. But for thousands of young college enrollment hopefuls, that “miracle” debt cancellation simply will not come.
This time of year can be likened to the “Tale of Two Cities” opening line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” As students prepare to don their caps and gowns these next few weeks, and as college decisions are confirmed, there is one key question that is sure to creep into far too many of their minds: “How will I PAY for this school?”
By now, it’s no secret that the average college graduate carries about $30,000 of student loan debt. A large number of students have significant gaps in their financial aid packages, oftentimes stemming from a lack of awareness of the financial aid process, limited support from counselors and parents and late or low engagement in the scholarship process.
The Scholarship Academy is committed to shifting the narrative around college funding for low-income students by using a unique curriculum to challenge the financial aid status quo. Instead of waiting for the financial aid process to happen to students, the organization focuses on empowering students to take ownership of their financial aid process as early as the 9th grade.
Ninth grade students who participated in a Scholarship Academy course at Carver High School in Atlanta Public Schools this past semester demonstrated a 45% increase in their confidence in understanding financial aid terms and processes. Using an online scholarship planning tool, the Virtual Scholarship Center, The Scholarship Academy team engages students in financial aid planning activities such as Financial Aid Jeopardy games that ask them to grapple with questions such as, “What will their out of pocket costs be?”
The goal is to give students enough lead time to raise the funds they need, to give them the courage to secure their own financial aid “gifts” earlier in their college access pipeline and to make sure they have the appropriate financial aid prowess to create their own debt-free college realities.
We literally cannot afford to wait on the college affordability issue to resolve itself. What we can do, however, is equip students early with the tools needed to address financial aid gaps over the course of their enrollment.
Learn more about how this L4L bright spot is improving post-secondary outcomes here.
Jessica Johnson is the Founder and Executive Director of The Scholarship Academy.