Innovative Scholarships: Community Support for Degree Completion

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According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, more than one quarter of all students who enrolled in a postsecondary institution in Fall 2015 did not persist toward completion, often accumulating debt while falling short of obtaining a degree.

To address this challenge and engage communities in locally based solutions, Helios collaborated with the Florida Philanthropic Network and the Florida College Access Network in the execution of the Community Foundation Challenge Grant for Local College Access Networks (LCAN) Development. Funded by Helios and the Kresge Foundation, the purpose of this project is to leverage local private investment, through Florida community foundations, and to engage and sustain college access coalitions, thereby increasing the college-going and postsecondary completion rates of students traditionally underrepresented in higher education. This collaboration informed a recent education brief, Beyond Traditional Scholarships, An Exploration of How Philanthropic Organizations and Communities are Partnering with Colleges and Universities to Design Innovative Programs to Serve Underserved Students.

In recent years, a growing trend within postsecondary financial aid has shifted need-based aid toward non-need, merit-based aid, which places low-income students at a disadvantage in comparison to their more affluent peers. Additionally, community groups and philanthropic organizations have replicated this trend focusing on grade point average or other merit-based criteria in order to award scholarships. Given the merit-based trend, challenges that derail completion compound as low-income students often fall short of obtaining adequate aid to cover tuition and ancillary expenses. 

Recognizing this financial aid trend is too often impeding rather than supporting degree completion, education and community leaders are now exploring options outside of traditional scholarship models. “In order to increase student retention, and ultimately increase the number of degreed individuals, more state colleges and universities are exploring innovative scholarship models that address not only the cost of tuition, but also address short-term financial challenges that might impede persistence,” said Dr. Paul Perrault, Vice President and Director of Research and Evaluation, Helios Education Foundation.

An increasing number of novel scholarship models provide wrap-around support services for students who have high potential but still need guidance in navigating postsecondary education. Beyond Traditional Scholarships explores a number of original models that aim to increase student retention and persistence, often tailoring services to individual community need. Through partnership and collaboration, a greater number of solutions customized to meet the needs of each community will not only support students but also result in a better-prepared, more globally competitive workforce.