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Dollars for Scholars takes healthy stake in higher education

SOLON– W.B. Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.”
With a scholarship program that grants funds to any applicant graduating from Solon High School, the Solon Dollars for Scholars organization has been helping to light such fires for more than 18 years.
Sometimes, a scholarship can be just the spark a student needs to take the next step toward continuing his or her education. Other times, the funding can mean the difference between affording that education and putting it off indefinitely.
Members of Solon Dollars for Scholars work hard to help students afford post-secondary education. This year, 77 applicants each received a $600 scholarship, for a total contribution of $46,200 in assistance.
It’s a commitment born of dedication to Solon students, said Dollars for Scholars board member Steve Breese.
“Dollars for Scholars started because a core group of folks believed in the need to provide help to our students, so they could achieve their dreams of a post-secondary education,” said Breese. “Dollars for Scholars, locally and nationally, is just one of the best community organizations in existence, because of the value they bring to the community by helping our young people achieve their educational goals.”
For some, those goals get further out of reach as the cost of college continues to rise; this March, the Iowa Board of Regents approved a five percent tuition increase at all three of Iowa’s public universities, and in April approved a three to five percent increase in the cost of room and board at those schools. Therefore, the support of programs like Dollars for Scholars is ever more important. In the last five years alone, the cost of a college education rose, on average, 50 percent.
A lack of resources not only narrows students’ opportunities, but for some, it can mean the end of the dream of a college education.
For others, such as 2007 Solon graduate Kerby Kramer, a Dollars for Scholars scholarship makes the dreaming easier.
“This scholarship was very helpful for my family and me,” said Kramer, who attended the University of Northern Iowa to major in education. “Because it helped alleviate some of the financial burdens of a degree, it allowed my focus to stay on my studies, rather than worrying about finances.”
Solon parent Stacy Hackert agreed; she has three sons who have all received Dollars for Scholars awards.
“The scholarships are awesome,” said Hackert. “The kids have used them to purchase their first semester books. Every bit they receive really does help!”
And investments in kids can reap bigger, more widespread benefits; adults with college degrees earn significantly more income during their careers than those with a high school diploma alone. An advanced education builds self-esteem and prepares people for civic engagement and volunteer activities. According to CNN International, citing a federal report that 95.5 percent of college graduates 25 and older were employed, compared with 90.3 percent of high school graduates and 85.4 percent of those without a high school diploma, “labor market figures consistently show that college graduates have a much lower unemployment rate than their less-educated peers.”
Breese concurred.
“The lifetime income for someone with a post-secondary education almost triples compared to a person without,” said Breese, “and not just for those who attend college, but also a trade school or anything beyond high school.”
In that sense, the benefits to individuals get passed on to their families. “Post secondary education enhances the opportunities to take care of yourself and your family later in life,” Breese said. And thriving families build thriving communities.
“The benefits are to society, in that generally folks who are better educated give more in terms of volunteering and donating time and resources back to the community,” Breese said.
Since 1993, Solon Dollars for Scholars has awarded $634,475 in first-year scholarships to 1,115 Solon High School graduates.
But the Dollars for Scholars program, and the rest of the scholarship funding and recognitions doled out on Senior Awards night, would not happen but for the shared vision of the community of Solon.
All told, various local organizations, businesses and individuals shelled out more than $83,000 in scholarships and awards to Solon’s class of 2011.
That’s a very healthy stake, and proof that the people of Solon in general place as high a value on education as its extracurricular endeavors.
“The Dollars for Scholars program is quite extraordinary; it’s just amazing what our community does for their students,” said Hackert.
In addition, its backing extends beyond high school. In 2008, the Dollars for Scholars organization began awarding second-year scholarships to students already attending college, and added third-year and fourth-year scholarship opportunities in 2009.
Further, Solon Dollars for Scholars has recently launched a capital campaign effort to increase the number of scholarships to Solon students. The group has set up an endowment fund to continue to be able to offer multi-year, renewable scholarships to help Solon graduates beyond their first year of college, and enable people to consider investing in the education of Solon’s youth through pledged donations, planned gifts or during estate planning.
Since launching its capital campaign, the organization has successfully raised over $180,000 for multi-year scholarships. Dollars for Scholars Board President Penny Tompkins said the campaign has been in the planning phase for a couple of years now.
“The board feels strongly that as college costs increase, we want to do our best to enable more Solon graduates to attain their goals with our financial support,” said Tompkins.
“It is worth all our hard work and fundraising when we receive a personal or written thank you from a graduate, or better yet, see them come back to live and enrich our community and schools,” she added.
To students like Kerby Kramer and the other 1,114 like her that make college a priority, a Dollars for Scholars scholarship is more than a means to an end; it’s a vote of confidence in their futures.
“This scholarship is certainly worth the time to apply for,” said Kramer.
And it’s certainly an investment with guaranteed returns.
This year’s deadline for second- and third-year scholarships is June 18. For more information, visit the Dollars for Scholars website at solondollarsforscholars.com.