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Solon Dollars for Scholars

SOLON– Solon Dollars for Scholars has no problem making a case for return on its investment. Through the organization’s Continuing Education Scholarship (CES) program, it is investing in everyone’s future.
The local organization recently signed checks totaling $25,500 to support the ongoing education of 11 Solon graduates who are working to complete their four-year degrees.
A college education is a costly prospect. According to the U. S. Department of Education, 48.32 percent of the nation’s college undergraduates held between $3,000 and $15,000 in student loans in 2003, and 26 percent of them owed more than $15,000 in student loans before they even graduated. In 2011, tuition and fees for a public university increased by 8.3 percent to $8,244 per year, while the average cost to attend one year of private college was a whopping $42,224. Further, only 35.5 percent of 2003’s bachelor degree recipients completed their education within four years.
Yet the investment pays off, shows a study by Georgetown University. College graduates earn 84 percent more over their lifetimes than people without college degrees. In fact, the Georgetown study estimates that a bachelor’s degree is worth about $2.8 million, the average lifetime earnings of those holding a bachelor’s degree. Having a post-secondary education, even without a degree, adds nearly $250,000 to one’s lifetime earnings.
And lacking a college education impacts more than just individual earnings; the International Youth Foundation states in a 2012 study that the average social cost to support a young person not engaged in employment, education or training is around $37,450 per year, after factoring in lost earnings, public health spending and other expenses. People without college educations contribute less to the overall economy, which affects everyone’s standard of living, it concludes.
Therefore, Solon Dollars for Scholars– the organization that gives a scholarship to every one of Solon High School’s graduating seniors who applies– launched a capital campaign in 2010 to create a program that annually awards even more in scholarships to Solon students in their second, third and fourth years of college as well. In addition, the organization oversees the selection process of two named scholarships for students in years two, three and four of their post-secondary education; the Jack Neuzil Scholarship, and the Gross-Lee Family Foundation Continuing Education Scholarship.
Thanks to generous community donations, the organization will pay a total of $31,700 this year for continuing education scholarships awarded in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
Linda Lee is a seven-year Dollars For Scholars board member. Lee herself was the first to attend college in her family, and had to borrow every dollar to do so. She sees the CES program as a wonderful opportunity to give back, to help students make the most of their lives.
“About four years ago, we decided as a board that one of the goals of the organization was to be able to extend our reach beyond the first year of college,” said Lee. “Part of that was driven by need, because that need doesn’t go away, and part of it was recognizing the return on investment. It has been well demonstrated that the longer students are in school, the less likely they are to drop out. We thought if we could increase the monies we gave them after the first year, the likelihood they would make it to their fourth year was even greater.”
And the reality of paying for college hits close to home for students like Jessie Meyer of Solon. Meyer is a junior at the University of Iowa this year, majoring in speech pathology. She is among the 2012 CES award recipients, and was so excited that she called Dollars for Scholars board member Paul Saupe as soon as she was notified.
“I was super surprised,” Meyer said. “I know a lot of really great people from Solon who were up for these scholarships too. It is wonderful to know that there are people in the community who are there for us even after we leave Solon. The scholarship is helping me immensely this semester, and hopefully I will be able to cut back on some work hours.”
Meyer said almost all of her college friends have jobs, and most of them don’t like to rely on parents for total financial support.
“I have always tried to put back whatever (earnings) I can, so this scholarship really helps me. I cannot express how grateful I am,” Meyer added.
Since 2010, Solon Dollars for Scholars has provided financial assistance to 32 college students who entered their post-secondary education from the halls of Solon High School.
The selection process is more stringent than simply applying; students must complete their application, including a statement of where he or she hopes to be after college, and go through an interview process with the Dollars for Scholars Awards Committee.
“The interview process allows us to look for very specific things; most importantly, at need,” Lee explained. “Through the interview, based on the information the student wishes to share with us, we can better sort out need that doesn’t show up on the student’s FASFA statement.”
Secondly, the interviews offer a glimpse into the students’ trajectory toward success.
“We also look at focus and drive, academic performance, and we look at character,” Lee said. “Those are the four overriding principles that helps us best distribute the funds we have.”
Meyer said though the interview process is a competitive one, the Dollars for Scholars Awards Committee made it comfortable.
“It was a friendly setting, and wasn’t as stressful as I thought it might be,” Meyer said. She encourages all Solon college students to give it a shot.
“It really is a great tool for helping pay for your college years,” Meyer said.
As Solon High School’s enrollment continues to climb, and with the cost of a higher education on the rise, the Dollars for Scholars organization finds itself increasingly in need of the community’s support in providing not just first-year scholarships to the high school’s graduating seniors, but also in maintaining a strong CES program for years to come.
The importance of making donations is commensurate with the importance of the organization’s mission, Lee said. The funds raised through the annual Dollars for Scholars Gala and the spring carnival only go toward the first year scholarships for graduating seniors. While any amount is helpful, the larger gifts made through bequests, stock donations, capital campaign contributions or named scholarships are increasingly critical.
“Data shows students who have a college education have a higher likelihood of truly becoming part of the middle class,” she said, “yet the need is very high, because the cost of education has exceeded inflation. It’s very difficult these days to work your way through school. We don’t want Solon students to be drowning in debt, because salaries just cannot keep up. So the more money we are able to distribute, the more Solon students we can touch. That’s the role of Dollars for Scholars”
After all, it offers a return on an investment that ultimately pays dividends to all.
The Solon Dollars for Scholars organization will celebrate the 20th anniversary of its annual gala fundraiser this Oct. 13.