Scholars show resiliency in our time, let’s support them

While preparing for the 2021 NCCF scholarship season, I have been thinking a lot about resiliency. Many of us have all been called upon to tap into our own resiliency skills in various ways over the last several months, from learning about wi-fi boosters to printing wirelessly. But I have been thinking specifically about the resiliency of young people as they balance their educational aspirations and dreams for the future with the stark reality of living through a global pandemic.

Sociologists teach us that resiliency is a learned a skill. I think we can all agree that the Class of 2021 was forced to take a crash course that saw many of them taking on the kind of responsibilities typically reserved for adults to manage and coping with disappointments the likes of which I would have had a hard time weathering at their age. Parents across the country have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and it has been their high school seniors that they look to when keeping the family afloat with part-time, and even full-time, jobs. Meanwhile, pop quizzes and term papers are still due, and students are often helping to manage online schooling for their siblings once parents have returned to work or in homes where English is the second language.

I must admit, I am in awe of how so many have stayed the course. And now it’s their turn – their opportunity to spread their wings and realize some of the goals they have been so diligently working towards, except the data reveals something else.

The National Student Clearinghouse reported a decline in undergraduate enrollment in fall 2020, data not totally unexpected given the effects of the pandemic on education, secondary and post-secondary alike.

Preliminary 2021 data indicate reasons to be both encouraged and concerned. Early Common App data shows that while the volume of college applications is up 10% overall, reaching 5,583,753, the number of low-income and first-generation applicants decreased by 3%. Common App president and CEO Jenny Rickard said in an Inside Higher Ed article that “persistent trends of decline among these key subgroups across the 2020-2021 cycle signal a need for additional support in the months leading up to enrollment in fall 2021.”

Given the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on low-income and rural communities across our state, I think we can play an active and vital role in providing that additional support because we know that securing aid increases the likelihood of enrollment.

As application cycles begin to close, there are circumstances that are important to keep in mind because we know that scholarship applications may look different this year. We know that standardized testing sites were closed and scheduled testing was cancelled last spring. Some applicants may lack test scores. We know that many colleges and universities are not requiring standardized test scores this year for that reason. We know that educational paths may change because some students may decide that the local community college may be a better fit for them now. So, I think it is particularly important to consider applications with an equitable lens.

One may wonder what that means in a practical sense. Well, it may mean re-thinking the scholarship committee’s definition of merit. It could mean re-examining the kind of community-service and extra-curricular activities the committee finds worthy and commendable versus those that they do not. And, it may also mean contemplating the measurable impact that a scholarship can make on a young person’s life, and moreover, their family and community in the long term.

The price tag for a college education is extremely expensive, and we know that despite the talent and aspirations of many students, going to college can be just out of their reach now more than ever. So, your individual and collective commitment to bridging the gap for so many families and students is inspiring.

Along with the generosity of the donors who established these scholarship funds, it is your contribution of time and talent that opens the world and expands horizons for so many young people. I am deeply honored to be your partner in this important work. It does, indeed, take a village.