“Last-dollar” Funding Makes College Possible for Many Stuart HS Seniors
Locally-based Stuart Educational Foundation awards “last-dollar” scholarships annually.
By: Tara Rethore, StuartFund Board Member and J.E.B. Stuart HS parent

For most college-bound seniors, SATs/ACTs are taken, applications submitted, FAFSA completed, and first semester transcripts are headed to college admissions representatives. Phew!

And now, seniors wait – not only for acceptance letters, but also, for notification of their financial aid awards. For many, that’s the critical factor in launching their college dreams.

College is expensive; that’s no surprise. Likewise, it’s common knowledge that the cost of college continues to rise and student debt is in crisis, topping $1.3 trillion in 2017 and affecting over 44 million borrowers, according to the New York Federal Reserve (reported in Forbes, Feb 21, 2017.) Schools that cover 100% of demonstrated need are rare; even fewer satisfy 100% of need without loans. (See: Colleges that Claim to Meet Full Financial Need, US News, Sept 21, 2017.) Yet, even when demonstrated need is fully met, there are other costs to attending college that financial aid offices don’t consider – things like travel, supplies, and room essentials. Some loans accrue interest immediately upon receipt. All of this (plus tuition) adds up, and can make or break a student’s dream of attending college.

One local organization seeks to close the gap between financial aid packages and the real cost of college for J.E.B. Stuart High School seniors.

The Stuart Educational Foundation is a certified 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to make college real for Stuart seniors. Since its inception in 2005, the Foundation – known colloquially as StuartFund – and its partners have awarded ~$1.5 million to help over 500 Stuart graduates to take the first step toward a college degree. At Convocation last spring, StuartFund awarded +$125,000 in scholarships to 63 members of the Class of 2017. Its partner organizations – Bailey’s Crossroads Rotary Club, Thurgood Marshall Foundation, and Casey Schulman Foundation – awarded additional scholarships totaling over $60,000. That’s real money making a real difference.

All StuartFund and partner scholarships are “last-dollar” funds based on demonstrated need. That means the Foundation considers the applicants’ financial needs after they’ve received all other aid offers, including federal, state, and college awards plus any private scholarships.

But it’s not all about finances. The Foundation and its partners also consider academic success and the rigor of coursework, plus a student’s involvement in the school and community, work experience, and family commitments. Many Stuart seniors overcome challenging family circumstances to meet and often, exceed graduation requirements. Students relate their dreams, lessons learned, and circumstances via a personal essay. And they provide three recommendations.

Past scholarship winners have pursued degrees at state schools (including GMU, NOVA, VCU, Virginia Tech, UVA, JMU, and ODU) and elsewhere (e.g. Colgate, American, Rensselaer Polytechnic, Bluefield). Their personal stories are remarkable – including athletes, IB scholars, honor-society members, AVID students, first-generation college matriculants, DACA “dreamers”, and those who’ve cared for siblings or battled illness.

Time to stop waiting and start closing the gap. Need money for college? Apply: StuartFund’s application portal opens February 27th (deadline April 3rd). All Stuart seniors are encouraged to apply. Have money? Give: www.StuartFund.org/contribute. Questions? stuartfoundation.org@gmail.com