Published Online: April 2, 1997

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Small Towns, Big Success

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A key has been publicity, which is easier in a town where the newspaper also serves as a community bulletin board.

Community members point to Mr. Miller and his organizational skills as the first key to the group's success. Mr. Miller, in fact, spends a great deal of time keeping painstakingly detailed records of the foundation's activities and spreading the good news about the scholarships.

He, in turn, benefits from his company's granting him as much time as he needs to work on the scholarship fund. Yet Brad Manatt, the president of Manatt's Inc., Mr. Miller's employer and a major contributor to the foundation, shrugs off the suggestion that he has done anything particularly noteworthy by providing the time. "I didn't know I had a choice," Mr. Manatt says jokingly.

Another key has been publicity, which is easier in a town where the newspaper also serves as a community bulletin board. Frank Heinen, the foundation's publicity chairman, writes an article about the scholarship fund each week for publication in the Brooklyn Chronicle. And he ends each article with an address to which contributions can be sent.

Living in an area that's small enough for people to know each other doesn't hurt either. Lyle Oswood, the foundation's vice president and a Brooklyn City Council member, credits "the fact that we know each of our kids and the fact that they know the money is there" for students. Mr. Oswood, a 37-year Brooklyn teaching veteran who still works occasionally as a substitute teacher for younger grades, adds, "I can do commercials right in the classroom."

He also notes that the foundation has benefited from several memorial contributions. "When you're raising children, you don't have a lot of money left over," says Mr. Oswood, who serves as the president of the local activity center for senior citizens. But, he adds, the potential for contributions from a town's older citizens "is untapped in a lot of communities."

Rollie Harder, the president of the Poweshiek County Savings Bank, a major contributor to the foundation, offers another reason why the scholarship effort has come together: a large board of directors that provides support and input from all areas. Indeed, the 23-member board has representatives from the business, education, civic, and religious communities of all three towns.

And from the school's perspective, Superintendent Maurice McDonald says that the foundation is successful because of deep roots in the community's commitment to education. With a broad level of community involvement, he adds, the effort is much more effective than if it had been a school-initiated project.

What effect outside groups can have on a student's decision to go to college is an issue that educators and community groups spend a great deal of time examining.

"It is the money, but really, it isn't," Mr. McDonald says. "I think it's [having] someone who says, 'We're interested in you, we care about your future, and here is something to get you going.'"

Boosters and Beneficiaries

The CSFA is, in fact, very interested in finding out about more about this community-scholarship connection. With a grant from the Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the CSFA contracted with researchers from Harvard University's graduate school of education to study the effect of Dollars for Scholars chapters on communities.

According to the preliminary findings of the Dollars for Scholars Educational Impact Research Project, the program "functions as a visible and tangible conduit for educators, parents, and community members to recognize excellence, need, and aspiration among a community's secondary school population." In addition to the dollar value of the scholarships, Dollars for Scholars offers a nonmaterial form of support that is generally not available elsewhere in the community, according to the findings.

In addition, the early results show that the dollar value of the scholarships may be sufficient to affect a student's plans for higher education. At the same time, though, the amount was found to be insufficient to address a greater concern of families: the escalating cost of higher education.

That issue--what effect outside groups can have on a student's decision to go to college--is one that educators and community groups across the country spend a great deal of time examining.

For instance, at the Cleveland Scholarship Programs Inc., a separate scholarship group that serves students in northeastern Ohio, organizers say that counseling on financial aid may mean as much to students as the scholarship itself.

Christina Milano, the executive director of the 30-year-old organization, says that many of the students her group serves are first-generation college students. The group's average $800 grant won't in and of itself get the students to college, she says.

But the organization helps put the whole financial-aid picture together for students by helping them get aid applications filled out on time, helping them talk with financial-aid officers, and helping them find all of the financial aid to which they are entitled, Ms. Milano says.

Yet Arthur Levine, the president of Teachers College, Columbia University, cautions that there's more to getting a student to go to college than just providing the money.

"Our kids have had to work through school; none have had a full ride, and none have had unlimited support from Mom and Dad."

Tony Kriegel
Farmer, father of 12,
school board member

Although there's nothing wrong with a scholarship program, he says, scholarships are "necessary but insufficient" to send a student to college who would not otherwise have gone there.

Mr. Levine, a co-author of Beating the Odds: How the Poor Get to College, adds that his studies have shown that the disadvantaged students who attend college despite all odds often choose that path because of a mentor and because of systematic encouragement about a college path that began at an early age.

"For some students, the money is all they're missing; for other students, they're missing the familiarity [with college], the motivation, the encouragement, the mentor," he says. "There are lots and lots of kids, lots of families, for whom no price will get them to college."

The Brooklyn-Guernsey-Malcom Dollars for Scholars chapter does in fact perform some services besides handing out money. The chapter has arranged several programs for experts to come in and talk to parents about saving for college costs and filling out financial-aid forms, for instance.

But the scholarships themselves have real meaning for someone like Elmer Anderson, a truck dispatcher at Manatt's Inc., whose family has twice benefited from the scholarship foundation: His daughter received a regular scholarship as a senior, and his wife received a "second chance" loan to attend college after nearly 20 years as a homemaker and a cashier.

"I don't know if my daughter would have gone to college even to try it out if there had not been some sort of scholarship," Mr. Anderson says. "It's definitely helped these kids get the idea they need to go on and try something further. "

Tony Kriegel, a farmer and school board member with 12 children, has also reaped the benefits of the Dollars for Scholars awards. Five of his 12 children have received scholarships from the foundation.

"Our kids have had to work through school; none have had a full ride, and none have had unlimited support from Mom and Dad," he says. "The scholarships they received through the local CSF have been a real aid to them in getting that first year under their belts."

The first semesters of college are critical, adds Mr. Kriegel, and he encourages his children not to work jobs during this "adjustment" period if possible. "That's where this scholarship is a big benefit to them, whether it's $500 or $1,000."

Mr. Kriegel, who stays firm in his commitment to send all of his children on to some form of higher education, is a contributor to the foundation and hopes some day to have a scholarship in the family's name.

"I don't think you can beat an education," he says.

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