It is no secret that the amount of debt the average American holds has been growing. For many, particularly young people, a huge part of the burden lies in student loans. Whether the loans are from government student aid programs, banks, lines of credit, or essentials like groceries or textbooks charged to a credit card, student debt and financial hardship are on the rise. Sadly, once in debt, it becomes increasingly difficult to break out, which impacts spending habits and ultimately the liquidity of economies.
Shifting Educational Landscape
Like the growing level of debt in America, the landscape of post-secondary education is changing too. Fewer students enter the post-secondary environment as a ‘traditional student’, i.e. coming from middle- or upper-class families with a history of higher education straight out of high school. More first-generation students from low-income households are attending post-secondary than ever before. Many of these students are studying part-time so that they can maintain part- or full-time jobs to support their academic pursuits. According to a study conducted by Deloitte University Press, 44% of college and university students today are aged 24 years or older, 28% are caring for dependents, and a whopping 18% are not native English-speakers.
Evidently, the world is changing. The demographic of the average post-secondary student has changed and many of these students are facing increased socio-economic challenges compounded with higher costs of tuition, room, and board. It is time for the way students finance higher education to change too.
Chad Everett Harris is a serial entrepreneur based in New Orleans. He spent much of his early life traveling across the country, but always knew he wanted to find creative, impactful ways of making money and doing business. From childhood lemonade stands to major landscaping projects in adulthood, and even eventually to contributing to the construction of the world’s largest data center, he understands some of the unique challenges that today’s hopeful and ambitious students face. As an advocate of the entrepreneurial spirit, Harris launched a scholarship program geared towards anyone currently enrolled in or planning to attend college or university in the United States of America or Canada. The scholarship, which will be awarded in tiers of $3,000, $2,000, and $1,000, offers students with a similar passion for entrepreneurship the opportunity to access higher education and better prepare themselves and their business ideas for the real world with less crippling debt.
Scholarships Provide Opportunity
Grants and scholarships like these are needed to empower those seeking higher education in order to better their lives. The current system of taking on debt and stress does not work. While scholarships like that of Chad Everett Harris may not appear to make much a of a dent in the overwhelming price tag of a college diploma or university degree, consider the statistics. According the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, students who default on their loans are most commonly those with the lowest debt burdens. For those with $5,000 USD in loans or less, one in three default on their payments. This is likely caused by those who attend only one year of post-secondary education before dropping out for one reason or another. Perhaps they were ill-prepared for the rigors of higher education or they were unable to meet the financial obligations of their academic endeavours. Either way, those students are burdened with debt without the added earning power a degree or diploma traditionally offers, causing them to not only miss out on an opportunity, but also fall farther into debt, which only increases thanks to added interest rates.
Scholarships and grants are an incredible way to finance a post-secondary education because they do not require repayment. No matter whether students complete their programs or not, scholarships like Harris’ provide a variety of individuals the opportunity to learn what they can when they can, with no debt or interest looming overhead. As someone who has lived with constant change and has needed to adapt to every situation, Chad Everett Harris has designed his scholarship program to cater to the ebbs and flows of life. “I envision a young entrepreneur like myself halfway through a semester coming up with a great business idea,” says Harris. “Why should the fear of debt stop that entrepreneur from working on and testing their idea in the real world?”
While big name scholarships offering larger sums require lengthy applications and essays, and sometimes even an application fee, may seem like the best option, they are often competitive and come with caveats. For example, in Georgia, the state offers financial aid to eligible students studying in-state with a cumulative average of 3.0. Students at Georgia State University who started their educational path with this scholarship but later lost their eligibility were found to be hovering just below the 3.0 mark. The university also found that students who lost the scholarship rarely graduated on time, if at all. Evidently, the financial support was a significant factor in students’ ability to attend school, but, perhaps more importantly, losing that support due to the performance caveat negatively impacted their ability to push forward.
Scholarships that offer flexibility are perhaps one of the best options for current and aspiring students in today’s changing world. There is no way to predict the future. Whether students need to take a hiatus from their studies to pursue an entrepreneurial idea as Chad Everett Harris suggests, or they need to drop out all together to care for a dependent, or something unimaginable like the coronavirus pandemic effects ways of working, learning, and earning an income, the unexpected is the only constant. Saddling students with increasing debt is not the answer. In order to create an educated, self-sufficient, critical-thinking population that can contribute positively to both society and its economic well-being, we must make building it a priority. Supporting and promoting scholarships is one way to do that in the short term while we work towards more permanent solutions in the long term.
This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of EconoTimes