College debt remains a national issues, and students are always looking for more money.
According to the Institute for College Access and Success, the average debt of a 2015 graduate from a Tennessee public or private four-year institution is $26,083. For college graduates from UTM, this number is $28,701. This sum looms over college students to follow them for a significant amount of time and trickle down into many aspects of life.
One way to alleviate the stress and negative consequences of student debt is through scholarships. Many forms of tuition assistance are available, but they can be scattered among departments and difficult to find.
UTM is working to solve this problem locally through Scholarship Aviator, a software program by Academic Works that matches qualified students with potential scholarship opportunities funded by private donors. By completing a general online application form, students are matched with qualified scholarships. The form accesses basic information from students’ Banner profiles and allows students to discuss their extracurricular activities, community service, work experience and give a brief biography about themselves.
It is what Kim Cooper, in the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships, called a “one-stop shop” for scholarship information.
Cooper worked with donor-funded scholarships in the Office of Development for 17 years. She advised students on available funding and sent them to different locations to learn more.
“We were trying to find a way to make it easier for students to apply for scholarships,” Cooper said.
Cooper, along with Mary Baker in Advancement Services, spent a year working with Academic Works and manually entering the awards. Academic Works is the only provider of its kind that works with the Ellucian Partner Program, which also runs the UTM Banner system.
“Getting the students aware of being able to apply to those scholarships is what gave us the motivation,” Baker said.
The program was implemented for the first time in the fall of 2015, with a pilot test done the previous spring. It is entering its second year of use.
“It’s really easy to use because you don’t have to apply for a bunch of different scholarships,” said Alleyah Allen, a freshman education major.
Once interested donors sign a gift agreement, the scholarship and its details are entered into the system. Departmental scholarship committees decide on award recipients after the application period ends. Chosen students then have their information processed through the Financial Aid office to ensure that they meet the qualifications of the fund.
However, in a small, anonymous man-on-the-street survey, out of 290 students questioned, 59.6 percent, or 173 students, did not know Aviator existed. Of this percentage, 103 students were juniors and seniors and 70 were freshmen and sophomores.
“It seems like they have very little advertising,” said Clayton Hilton, a senior criminal justice student.
Of the 117 students who said they knew about Aviator, 46 said they had used it, 29 of whom were awarded scholarships.
The program lists five pages filled with tuition assistance and scholarship opportunities for different majors from all walks of life, and some of the scholarships have very specific requirements. Criteria are selected by donors.
These qualifications can be so narrow that there is not a student match in rare circumstances. However, in these rare circumstances members of the development office sift through applicants to find those who closely match and approach the donor.
“It’s a great resource that we can have for students,” said John Peale, a senior agriculture student.
The current submission deadline is Feb. 1. To learn more about Aviator and fill out your application, visit https://utm.academicworks.com/ or stop by the Financial Aid office.