Sallie Mae Awards $250,000 in Scholarships to Increase Access to Higher Education
To commemorate National Scholarship Month, Sallie Mae announced the latest recipients of its Bridging the Dream Scholarship for High School Seniors. The Sallie Mae Fund, the company’s charitable arm, has partnered with Thurgood Marshall College Fund for the last three years to award scholarships to deserving under-resourced and underrepresented students.
This year’s 27 deserving high school students were awarded up to $10,000 each to access higher education.
The diverse and impressive Bridging the Dream scholarship recipients were selected from more than 1,100 applicants nationwide and a majority are attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities. They are pursuing a diverse range of degrees, including criminal justice, musical theater, social work, engineering, and more.
Meet this year’s outstanding students.
2023-2024 Bridging the Dream Scholarships Recipients
Hometown: New Hyde Park, N.Y.
College: Stony Brook University
Major/Minor: Political Science and Economics
Hometown: Milton, Ga.
College: North Carolina A&T University
Major/Minor: Biology, Business Finance and Engineering
Hometown: Rochester, N.Y.
College: North Carolina Central University
Major/Minor: Pre-Law, Political Science and Accounting
Hometown: Fort Worth, Texas
College: Spelman College
Major/Minor: Political Science
Hometown: McDonough, Ga.
College: Savannah State University
Major/Minor: Environmental Science
Hometown: Wilmington, Del.
College: Delaware State University
Hometown: Hayward, Calif.
College: Hampton University
Major/Minor: Systems, Organization and Management
Hometown: Conway, Ark.
College: Middle Tennessee State University
Major/Minor: Audio Production
Hometown: Centreville, Va.
College: Oakland University
Major/Minor: Musical Theatre
Hometown: Mine Hill, N.J.
College: Niagara University
Major/Minor: Criminal Justice
Hometown: Kennesaw, Ga.
College: Clark Atlanta University
Major/Minor: Pre-Law, Business, Marketing, Communications and Spanish
Hometown: Lake Cormorant, Miss.
College: Georgia Institute of Technology
Major/Minor: Mechanical Engineering and Public Policy
Hometown: Texas, Ala.
Major/Minor: Southern University and A&M College
Hometown: Lanham, Md.
College: Bowie State University
Major/Minor: Computer Science and Engineering
Hometown: Lithonia, Ga.
College: Howard University
Major/Minor: Theatre Arts and Sports Medicine
Hometown: Stockbridge, Ga.
College: Jackson State University
Major/Minor: Mass Media Arts, Theatre
Hometown: Fontana, Calif.
College: University of Hawaii of Manoa
Major/Minor: Education, Business and Animation
Hometown: Toledo, Ohio
College: The Ohio State University
Major/Minor: Environmental Science or Social Work (Undecided)
Hometown: North Charleston, S.C.
College: Hampton University
Major/Minor: Physics and Biology
Hometown: Richmond, Va.
College: Norfolk State University
Major/Minor: Broadcast Journalism
Hometown: Oswego, Ill.
College: Xavier University of Louisiana
Major/Minor: Biology, Chemistry and Spanish
Hometown: Horn Lake, Miss.
College: Alabama A&M University
Hometown: Gahanna, Ohio
College: Kentucky State University
Major/Minor: Environmental Science
Hometown: Douglasville, Ga.
College: Morehouse College
Hometown: Ellenwood, Ga.
College: Tuskegee University
Major/Minor: Veterinary/Animal Sciences
Hometown: Jonesboro, Ga.
College: Fort Valley State University
Major/Minor: Electrical Engineering
Hometown: Lakeway, Texas
College: Howard University
Major/Minor: Herbal Medicine, African Studies and Business Marketing
Focusing Reform to Address the College Completion Gap
The promise of higher education comes from earning a degree, not from merely earning a few college credits. Still, far too many students begin college and fall short before reaching the finish line. In fact, the number of students who have some college experience, but no degree has reached a staggering 40 million.
Read more from Nicolas Jafarieh, Sallie Mae Executive Vice President, on how common-sense reforms to address the college completion gap can help more students not only access college, but successfully earn their degrees.
What Students and Families Need to Know About The FAFSA
Each year, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) opens the door for students and families to access more than $112 billion in scholarships, grants, state and federal financial aid. Still, too many families miss out on this critical aid due to misconceptions about their eligibility or confusion around how to complete the application.
About a third of families skipped the form altogether last academic year, according to Sallie Mae’s How America Pays for College 2023 report, with 20% saying they had a problem with the application or that it was too complicated. In addition, 72% of families could not identify when the FAFSA becomes available.
This year, the FAFSA® application opens in December instead of its usual Oct. 1 launch date.
Along with a new open date, the application is also getting an upgrade to streamline and simplify the process. It will ask fewer questions and students and parents will have the option to import tax information from the government instead of manually entering.
Here are five important things to know about the upcoming FAFSA®:
1. All students—regardless of family income—should complete the form.
Most families—88%—know to submit the FAFSA® each year of their program to qualify for financial aid, but not all families know that every student is eligible to apply. Some families believe their income is too high for their student to qualify for aid, a most frequently mentioned reason why families didn’t submit the FAFSA® last year.
The reality is all students, regardless of income, should complete the form. Some of that aid, like scholarships, grants and state-based aid, is offered on a first-come, first-served basis. That’s why the sooner families can get in line—as close to the expected December date—the better. Families should get their information ready now and keep an eye out for an announcement from the Federal Student Aid Office about the new launch date.
2. There is no fee to submit the FAFSA®.
Families should never pay to submit the FAFSA®. Filing is free, period. A paid service will not get students more aid. Sallie Mae provides students with free resources to help them fill out their application properly, but they can also check with their high school, local college, and financial aid office for assistance.
3. Fill out the “special circumstances” form when financial information changes.
Students and families—including those attending graduate school—should complete the FAFSA® every year they are in school. That said, sometimes income and other factors may change due to circumstances such as a job loss or medical emergency. That’s when completing a “special circumstances” form may make sense. The form is available from college financial aid offices and can help students receive additional aid in certain situations.
4. List schools on the FAFSA® even if it’s not a final list.
If students don’t list all colleges that they’re considering on their FAFSA®, then the schools won’t know the student is interested in applying for grant money from them. Students should also always list state schools first in case they offer additional state-based aid on a priority basis.
5. There is no age limit.
Federal financial aid is just as available to non-traditional students in the 24- to 35-year-old range as it is to students in their late teens and early twenties. There’s no age limit for receiving federal financial aid—so all students and families should apply.
This past academic year marked the second year of stable FAFSA® submission rates after several years of significant declines. While the form should be simpler this year, there’s still more work to be done.
The FAFSA® is an important first step for students and families to help make college more affordable and accessible. Sallie Mae supports continuing to simplify the FAFSA® and improve awareness to help more students and families take advantage of critical aid. As an education solutions provider, we provide free tools, tips and webinars to help students and families through every step of completing the FAFSA® and financing their higher education.
FAFSA is a registered service mark of U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid
Why Scholarships are a Critical Tool for Families to Pay for College
Paying for college can be a complex, stressful process. Yet, a new study finds that students and families may be missing out on scholarships, which can help make college more affordable. In fact, almost 40% of families didn’t take advantage of scholarships to help cover last academic year’s college costs, according to Sallie Mae’s 2023 How America Pays for College report.
Almost half of families who didn’t apply for scholarships weren’t aware of available scholarships, and 29% believed they wouldn’t receive one. Many students also point to the time and effort it takes to find scholarships and complete their applications or believe scholarships are only for exceptional students or athletes.
Sallie Mae’s free scholarship search app Scholly helps connect students and families to free money for college. Scholly is a one-stop shop to search and apply for millions of dollars of scholarships.
Don’t Leave Free Money on the Table
Applying for free money is the first step in Sallie Mae’s 1-2-3 approach to paying for college.
Free money, such as scholarships and grants, are often what enable students from underrepresented and underserved communities access higher education. Last academic school year, 85% of students attending public Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) used scholarships and grants to cover the cost of college.
To help expand access and completion for more students, Sallie Mae’s Bridging the Dream Scholarship helps students from historically marginalized and underserved communities attend college. In partnership with Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), The Sallie Mae Fund awards high school students up to $10,000 in scholarships to access higher education. The Bridging the Dream Scholarship for Graduate Students awards $10,000 to graduate students who plan to use their degree to advocate for social justice and support their communities.
The Sallie Mae Fund and TMCF also offer the Completing the Dream Scholarship, which helps students from underrepresented backgrounds with unexpected college costs to help them graduate without financial barriers.
To date, Sallie Mae has awarded more than 600 scholarships totaling $2 million to help more students on their paths to success.
Sallie Mae Makes Top Scholarship App Free for All Students
By adding Scholly to its suite of education solutions, Sallie Mae is simplifying the scholarship process
Scholly, a top scholarship search app that has connected millions of students to more than $100 million in scholarships, is now free for all users. Sallie Mae recently acquired the key assets of Scholly, adding to its suite of education solutions to continue powering confidence in students and families as they navigate to, through, and immediately after college.
Scholly helps students connect to scholarships, ultimately helping limit the amount they need to spend out of pocket or borrow to pay for higher education. Families can also use Scholly Offers, which matches students with strategic partners to help them earn cash back.
More than 60% of families used scholarships to help pay for college last year, and nearly 80% said the funding made college possible, according to our latest How America Pays for College report. Yet, despite scholarships being critical free money to help pay for college, more than $100 million in scholarship funds go unclaimed every year. By making Scholly free for all users, Sallie Mae is hoping to reduce that number and provide more students with access to critical funding for their higher education.
Three Ways to Prevent Overborrowing for College
Students borrow nearly $100 billion from the federal government annually
Each year, students and families borrow nearly $100 billion from the federal government. Many times, they’re borrowing more than they need to, and often more than they have the ability to repay.
During the 2022-2023 academic year, students borrowed an average of $11,337 and parents $13,507 to pay for higher education, an increase of 21% and 25%, respectively, over the previous year, according to Sallie Mae’s How America Pays for College report.
Unlimited lending programs, complex forms and confusion over eligibility for grants and scholarships all contribute to overborrowing.
Here are three ways to help limit overborrowing:
Consider Reasonable Limits for Federal Loans
Some federal lending programs allow students and families to borrow virtually unlimited amounts to pay for higher education, a policy that has driven up both student debt and the cost of tuition.
In fact, unlimited Grad PLUS loans have contributed to federal graduate student debt reaching its highest amount ever, according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Education. The share of students who borrowed more than $80,000 to cover graduate costs increased from 1.4% in 2000 to 11% in 2016.
Think tanks, including the New America Foundation and the Urban Institute, have recommended putting reasonable limits on these lending options to prevent students and families from borrowing more than they can afford to repay. This reform could also slow the exponential growth of college tuition.
Standardize Financial Aid Offers
Financial aid offers leave families confused about the true cost of higher education, according to a recent study by the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO). It found 91% of colleges and universities did not clearly state the net price of college — the amount a student owes after scholarships and grants — in their financial aid offers.
A standardized, transparent offer that clearly itemizes direct costs and fees would help students and families make informed decisions about what school to attend and how much they’re expecting to pay—ultimately helping to prevent overborrowing.
Encourage Students to Start with Grants and Scholarships
Each year, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®)* opens the door to $112 billion in grant, work-study and federal loan funds. Still, 30% of families didn’t apply last academic year, includingthose from low-income families who would be eligible for free money like scholarships and grants. Many aren’t applying because the form is too complicated, they believe their family’s income is too high or they simply lack awareness about the FAFSA. Increasing education about the FAFSA’s importance could help to close this gap and, in turn, connect students to more funding.
Similarly, more than $100 million in scholarships goes unclaimed each year. Too many students and families don’t apply for scholarships thinking they are reserved for top students or athletes, but there are scholarships available for a wide variety of skills and interests. To make it easier for students and families to find scholarships, Sallie Mae added Scholly, a top scholarship app, to its suite of free resources that help make college more affordable.
These three reforms are important steps towards limiting overborrowing, while ensuring students maintain access to higher education.
FAFSA is a registered service mark of U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid
5 Things to Know About How America Pays for College
The federal higher education financing system is complicated and can often leave families feeling confused about all the potential paths for their education journey and where to start. To better understand how students and parents approach planning and paying for college, Sallie Mae annually conducts its “How America Pays for College” report with Ipsos.
The research explores education funding sources—from family income and savings to scholarships, grants, and borrowed funds—and evaluates trends in payments over time.
Here are five things to know about how America pays for college:
1. Slightly more than half of families have a plan for how to pay for college.
Last year, 53% of students and families reported making a plan for how to pay for college before the student enrolled, slightly down from last year’s high of 59%.
Students attending four-year public and private schools are more likely to plan ahead than students attending 2-year schools. The same goes for families with prior college experience. Fifty-five percent of families with college experience have a financial plan, compared to 45% of first-generation college families.
An even larger gap exists between higher- and lower-income families. Seventy-nine percent of families who make more than $150,000 per year had a plan, compared to just 43% of families who make less than $50,000.
Sallie Mae helps power confidence through free tools and resources like Scholly, a one-stop shop to search and apply for millions of dollars of scholarships.
2. Majority of families are still unaware of when the FAFSA® becomes available.
While FAFSA completion rates are holding steady at 71%, just more than seven in 10 families are still unaware of when the application opens, and 30% of families bypass the form altogether.
Among the families who didn’t submit the FAFSA, majority believed they made too much money to qualify. Twenty-five percent of families found the application to be too complicated, while nearly 30% reported not having the required information for the application.
The FAFSA is the gateway to accessing more than $112 billion in grants, scholarships, and federal financial aid for college, and those most likely to qualify for aid are not completing the form due to lack of awareness. States and colleges rely on information from the FAFSA to determine need-based aid for qualifying students.
3. Scholarships are key for accessing higher education, especially for students attending HBCUs.
Scholarships play a meaningful role in families’ college journeys—not only as a source of funding —but also a source of pride. More than half — 61% — of families relied on scholarships to help lower the cost of college last year. Most scholarships were given from the school the student was attending, followed by the state and non-profits or organizations. Students who attend public Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are even more likely to rely on scholarships, with 85% using scholarships and grants to cover the cost of college last year. Most families — 80% — agreed that scholarships made it possible for their child to attend college.
For families who didn’t take advantage of applying for scholarships, most said it was due to lack of awareness, low confidence in winning, or common misconceptions about who is eligible to apply. Forty-five percent of students and parents believe scholarships are only for exceptionally gifted students. In fact, there are scholarships available for all types of students — from being a first-generation college student to being left-handed.
Sallie Mae helps students access millions of dollars of scholarships through Scholly, the free, #1 scholarship search app that connects students to millions of scholarships.
4. Many families eliminate schools based on cost.
Choosing a college is a momentous decision that is largely impacted by the cost of attendance. Seventy-eight percent of families eliminated a school based on cost at some point during their college search and decision process last year. Around one third of families — 32% — said the current state of the economy impacted their decision as well.
Yet, 75% of families said they were willing to stretch themselves financially because they view higher education as an investment in the student’s future.
Sallie Mae helps students and families finance their higher education responsibly by encouraging and educating students on utilizing scholarships, grants, and other federal aid before borrowing.
5. Many lower-income and first-generation families rely on grants.
While 57% of all families used grants to pay for college last year, first generation families and families earning less than $50,000 per year — 68% and 74% respectively — reported higher grant usage. Hispanic and Black families were also more likely to rely on grants to pay for college last year.
Sallie Mae supports meaningfully expanding grants, such as the Pell Grant — which has helped more than 80 million low-to middle-income students access and complete higher education. Last year, around $3.6 billion in Pell Grants went unclaimed, aid that could have helped more students achieve their college dreams. Meaningful reforms, such as the FAFSA Simplification Act and increasing the maximum Pell Grant amount, could help more students access this critical aid.
FAFSA is a registered service mark of U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid
Three Organizations Helping Students Access — and Complete — College
Higher education lays the foundation for future success, but between applying for scholarships and grants, to decoding financial aid offers, paying for college can be a complex undertaking.
As an education solutions provider and responsible private lender, Sallie Mae is doing its part to power confidence in students and families as they navigate to, through, and immediately after college. Through tools and services that connect students to scholarships and planning resources, we help families make informed decisions so they can confidently achieve their higher education goals. Sallie Mae, through its charitable arm, The Sallie Mae Fund, also awards scholarships to help students from all backgrounds access and complete their higher education.
Here are three other organizations that help students effectively plan for higher education.
1. Reach Higher Helps First-Generation Students Access College
Reach Higher, founded by former first lady Michelle Obama, supports and guides high school students who are the first in their families to attend college.
Its free UpNext tool sends personalized text messages — from peer and professional advisors— to high school students with information about the application process, which has led to higher rates of FAFSA completion, and college enrollment after high school and sophomore year returns, according to data from Reach Higher. Mentors also answer questions and provide reminders about upcoming deadlines, setting students up for success.
2. The Posse Foundation Graduates 90% of its Scholars
For more than 30 years, the Posse Foundation has helped thousands of students from underserved communities apply for — and complete — college. Today, the organization works with more than 60 partner colleges and universities, and recruits students from cities nationwide, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Miami and more.
Posse students start meeting with staff and peer mentors during their senior year of high school to best prepare them for college. Once on campus, the scholars meet regularly with mentors and each other, helping to build a support system and boost retention. As graduation approaches, the Posse Foundation helps students find internship and career opportunities.
The organization reports a 90% graduation rate, and its alums include Shirley Collado, the president of Ithaca College, the general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers Koby Altman, and Erica Spatz, a cardiologist and professor at the Yale School of Medicine.
3. Generation Hope Supports Teen Parents
Through its Scholar program, Generation Hope provides teen parents in D.C. and New Orleans with tuition assistance, tutoring, mental health support, child-care assistance and more, so they can complete their degrees. The students’ young children can receive early literacy support so that they’re ready to start kindergarten.
While less than 2% of teen parents earn a college degree by age 30, 62% of Generation Hope scholars graduate in six years, roughly the same as the national graduation rate. More than 80% of graduates have full-time jobs or are in graduate school within six months of finishing school.
Generation Hope also draws on its experience to help colleges and universities better support student parents.
Building a stronger, student-centered higher education financing system that prioritizes the best interests of students will require groups like these and all stakeholders – private sector, federal programs, colleges and universities – to come together.
Supreme Court Ruling on Federal Student Debt Cancellation Should Be a Wake-Up Call
Sallie Mae CEO Jon Witter penned an op-ed for The Hill that highlighted a variety of common-sense solutions to constructively address the broken federal higher education system in need of significant and lasting reform that supports students and limits overborrowing.
“If we fail to make significant structural reforms to the federal higher education system, another generation of students and families will inevitably face the same hurdles so many face today. The Supreme Court’s decision is a call for us to come together and work toward meaningful reform,” he wrote.
It’s Time to Expand the Pell Grant
Higher education opens doors of opportunity. Those with some form of college degree typically earn significantly more in their lifetime than those students without.
The median lifetime earnings of an American with a bachelor’s degree is $2.8 million; for an associate degree, it’s $2 million. In contrast, those with a high school diploma have $1.6 million in median lifetime earnings, according to a report from Georgetown University.
In the more than five decades since it launched, the Pell Grant has helped low- and middle-income students unlock a path to economic prosperity by completing higher education. The Pell Grant, which provides critical need-based funding that does not have to be repaid, has helped more than 80 million students access – and complete – higher education.
Now, with nearly seven million undergraduate students receiving a Pell Grant each year, it’s become the largest source of grants for students trying to attend a higher education institution who may otherwise not have been able to afford it. In the 1975-1976 school year, the maximum Pell Grant equated to more than 75% of the average cost of attending a public four-year university. However, in the 2020-2021 school year, the maximum amount covered just one-third of college costs, according to the National College Attainment Network.
It’s time to enhance and better align the Pell Grant to meet the needs of 21st-century students – many of whom are first generation college students, those from underserved or underrepresented communities, or exploring non-traditional paths to higher education. Reforms — such as increasing the size of the award or allowing it to be applied to more programs — would increase access to higher education and limit the potential for overborrowing, as would simplifying the application process. A modernized Pell Grant would put more students on the path to long-term success.
Increasing the Pell Grant’s maximum amount can help close funding gaps, protect against overborrowing and unsustainable student loan debt. With $1.7 trillion in outstanding student debt — 93% of if it held by the federal government — it’s past time to enact policies that prevent overborrowing.
A study from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities found boosting the size of the Pell Grant would increase college retention and enrollment rates for low-income students. A separate analysis from the Urban Institute concluded doubling the Pell Grant maximum amount would lead to higher grant awards for students of color, a change that could help to address decades’ old education inequalities.
Policymakers should also consider allowing the Pell Grant to be used for short-term skills training programs, such as coding boot camps or trade schools. Expanding the Pell Grant would help students start a new career more affordably while simultaneously addressing skills gaps.
Simplify the FAFSA
To receive a Pell Grant, students must first complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Our research shows only 20% of families with a student planning to pursue higher education feel very prepared to complete the FAFSA, and only a third of first-generation families plan to submit the form—even while 42% of them agree that more grant aid would make college more affordable.
Further streamlining the FAFSA would likely boost the number of students who complete the form, as would increasing education about its importance.
Supporting Those With The Most Need
For too long, the federal student loan program has done too much for too many and not enough for those who need it most. Meaningfully expanding the Pell Grant and streamlining the associated application process are critical to ensure that the federal higher education financing system does what it was intended to – facilitate access to education for those with the greatest need.