The Community Foundation for Southwest Washington, a nonprofit that provides thousands of dollars in financial aid for students pursuing secondary education, is reporting low student interest and total submissions in this year’s application cycle.
The slow start in applicants is unusual for the foundation, which awarded an estimated $913,820 across 313 awards in 2021. The foundation works to collect applications for about 67 different local scholarship opportunities, with the intent of servicing a wide variety of interests and qualifications. Funding is gathered from other nonprofit organizations, independent private donors and larger interest groups.
The 2022 application cycle will remain open for many of its scholarships until April 30.
Deanna Green, the foundation’s scholarship manager and development associate, attributed the decrease in applicants to a shrinking interest in higher education as the go-to route for high school graduates.
“Students aren’t sure what they want to do,” Green said. “There’s more of a trend of people wanting to go into the workforce. There’s a lot of fatigue from online and virtual schooling.”
National research from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows dramatic decreases in secondary education enrollment, especially among those seeking two-year associate degrees. Enrollment at community colleges for fall 2021 was an estimated 15 percent lower than for fall 2019.
Clark College has taken an even larger hit to its enrollment since the onset of the pandemic.
In 2019, Clark had an estimated 7,473 full-time equivalent students. School president Karin Edwards estimated in her Jan. 20 address that by the end of the 2021-22 school year, that number will have fallen to nearly 5,500 of such students — a 26.4 percent decrease in just two years.
In order to grapple with the decreased interest, the foundation has made a handful of tweaks to their system and outreach programs to attract a wider array of students. The addition of an equity lens, Green said, helps to connect communities with available financial aid opportunities they may have not been previously aware of.
“We keep reevaluating the programs, outreach is really important,” Green said. “We think to ourselves, ‘Who are we not seeing?’”
The foundation engages in conversations with career advising offices in local school districts and has led presentations and one-on-one discussions at the local Boys and Girls Clubs in Vancouver.
From a technical perspective, the foundation has revamped its website’s application portal to improve usability. Similar to the Common Application for colleges, the foundation’s new service has users fill out one, general application that asks eligibility questions about specific extracurricular activities, cultural backgrounds, career interests and more in order to better point students in the direction of scholarships that might be best suited for them.
“Instead of students having to sort and weave through everything, the system will help them decide that. There’s no more time wasted spent guessing,” Green said.
Though the trend away from pursuing college is a multi-year issue, Green suspects that these 2022 graduates — who are now concluding their third pandemic-afflicted school year — are more and more burnt out than previous classes. It may be next year, she said, that enrollment numbers really start to free fall.
To address those doubts about a two- or four-year option, the foundation features a number of financial aid options for students pursuing vocational schools, apprenticeship programs or even a specific technical certificate.
Among the scholarship funds with quickly approaching deadlines is the 2022 Vancouver Rotary Scholarship, which is eligible to any student currently enrolled in Vancouver Public Schools, the La Center School District, Clark College or WSU Vancouver. Online applications are due by Sunday.
The foundation also provides a surprise general scholarship of $2,500 to one or more students who don’t end up receiving a specific award.
Decisions are typically announced in the beginning of June.