Hats off and a Kir Royale to all who are attending a college graduation this month. To the single moms, the single dads, the two-parent families, the blended families, the extended families, who schlepped, sacrificed, sent money, learned how to text, and somehow endured, we salute you.
Anyone who hasn't done it has little idea of what a miracle it is to get a kid through.
It certainly feels harder now. This generation has few of the advantages in college financing that were extended to the boomers; when we came through, practically anyone who could fog a mirror could get a federal grant to go to college; the interest on our student loans was roughly the same as today's passbook savings account; and a semester's tuition and fees at UMass were about the same as dinner for four with a good bottle of wine.
Today's students face tighter financial aid requirements, costlier loans, and the near-requirement of at least one unpaid summer internship to have any shot at a job. The result: the average debt level of a graduating senior in 2009 was about $24,000.
That's why it's important for us to be helping all kids get through - we all need to keep sending money.
I spent part of this semester reading scholarship applications from UMass students from all kinds of economic and family backgrounds, and what was striking was the level of debt so many had taken on. I also saw how a little bit of cash can go a long way to enabling a student to keep going. And, at a couple of recent banquets where the honors and awards were given out, I was inspired by the people who've made commitments to helping other people's kids make it through college.
Harold Grinspoon is one of them. Grinspoon made a bundle in real estate in western Mass., and he's carved out a philanthropic niche encouraging college entrepreneurs in western Mass.
Grinspoon, now in his 80s, seemed like a kid in a candy shop as he mixed, mingled, and talked business with many of the nearly 500 students and teachers who attended his foundation's Entrepreneurship Initiative Banquet at the Log Cabin in Easthampton last month. Over the years, his foundation has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars supporting young people in their efforts to innovate.
The best oddball idea of the night was kale chips (which actually tasted quite good). But there were also viable businesses in the room: the Greenfield Community College student who launched a microbrewery is now expanding; the MBA students with the sustainable wedding dress business are raring to go. I sat across from a UMass student who was building a business that would turn natural gas into gasoline. Next to her was a mechanical engineering PhD student who just sold two of his new product: a sensory blanket for autistic children. He's now entering the next stage of clinical trials.
At UMass-Amherst on May 7, Ronald Ansin and his son, a UMass alum, gave out scholarships to 21 UMass students to help pay for study abroad. The Ansin family has helped more than 200 students finance their study-abroad semesters; for one young woman, the trip would be the first time she stepped on an airplane. Ron Ansin, too, looked like a happy guy for someone who had just shelled out a lot of money to young people he didn't know.
The family of the late Scott Bacherman, who was active at the UMass radio station WMUA in the 1970s, honors his memory each year by funding a scholarship and fellowships, and covering the expenses of a student doing an unpaid internship in media. His mother Roz, his wife, and two children attend the event each year. What a way to keep a spirit alive.
They're just a couple of scores of of families and individuals across the state who have, over the past month, tossed a lifeline to other people's children. But you don't have to be a mogul to make a difference, and you can't go wrong donating toward a scholarship. A thousand people donating $50 can make a difference. I'm partial to UMass just because of the range of kids who come through our doors, and because these students generally stay in Massachusetts.
There's lot of hand-wringing in Massachusetts about how to keep young people from leaving our state. A public-private partnership has even launched a website with resources to help keep college grads from leaving the state.
Of course, this is a complex problem: this generation also seems to believe that they shouldn't have to endure crappy weather, and there's not much we can do about that. But we can make it a little easier to finance their education. Keep sending money.
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