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Joshua Jamerson, senior editor at The Post, writes a weekly column for Wednesday's newspaper.

‘Modest’ scholarships help students stay in school

Northern Ohio colleges and OU are offering many new 'modest' scholarships aimed at keeping students enrolled.

For many students, the tens of thousands of dollars it takes to go to college isn’t what leads them to drop out. It’s sometimes a matter of failing to close a small gap between what a student can afford to pay — adding up grants, aid, scholarships, loans and sometimes cash — and the little bit leftover that hasn’t been accounted for. In these instances, some students around the nation drop out because of a modest $1,000 or less.

Cutler Hall and other university administrators across Ohio and the U.S. have seemingly caught on to this national trend in the past few years.

Ohio University spent about $55,000 last year on emergency scholarships for 55 students in difficult, turbulent and sudden financial constraints.

When a student approaches a financial aid officer with an extraordinary or sudden circumstance hindering his or her ability to pay for school-related costs, money is able to be allocated within days.

“It could be within the same day or a couple days,” said Valerie Miller, director of financial aid. “There’s not a lengthy process to determine eligibility. Many times students are in a situation when the need for it is immediate. It’s not like the financial aid process in general when you’re filing FAFSA forms.”

The Wall Street Journal reported last week Northern Ohio colleges are doing similar things, but while OU is offering scholarships more aimed at emergencies, other schools are trying to bridge a natural gap between funds in hand and the balance leftover.

Three colleges in Northeast Ohio — University of Akron, Kent State University and Hiram College — found many students were in danger of not graduating because they were short a few hundred dollars for books, class fees and repairs to vehicles necessary to get to campus.

By spreading out small-dollar-amount scholarships to students who said they were going to quit school for those or similar reasons, those colleges boosted the region’s degree-attainment rate to 31.7 percent in 2013 from 28.9 percent in 2009, The Journal reported. That means that now, more than three in 10 adults in Northeast Ohio now hold college credentials.

OU officials said they do not have an identical program or similar partnerships, although its system is similar and is addressing the same concerns.

For example, Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit — and her husband William, an OU professor — gave $40,000 in 2013 to the Green and White Scholarship Fund, which allocates $1,000 scholarships to students in emergency situations.

That fund, Miller said, is included in the “many, many” pools of money OU pulled from during the 2013-14 academic year, when 55 students received $55,000 in emergency aid.  

Miller said they are “modest” amounts given the cost of tuition, but that it helps.

The current total annual estimated cost to attend OU is about $22,000 for Ohio residents and $31,000 for out-of-state students.

Being that Cutler Hall’s success in giving OU a good future — securing a shrinking portion of state funding, bringing our athletics program to behemoth-status, getting donors pumped about giving money, etc. — is directly tied to our staying in school and paying tuition, university officials should do everything possible to make going to school here affordable and paying the bill easy.

These grants are a step in the right direction, and it’d be nice to see these efforts ramped up — as well as outreach to let students know about these opportunities.


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