DCA scholarships assist with rising tuition costs

The accomplishments and dedication of Darien High School students — whether on the sports field, in the classroom, or on the stage — is a story that is frequently told.  What may be less understood, as the current senior class diligently fills out college applications and awaits admissions decisions, is just how challenging it will be for some of these talented students to finance their higher education.

“Despite staggering tuition costs, I think there is still the perception that in a town such as Darien, families can afford to pay — or that students are receiving full athletic scholarships,” says Susan Vogel, co-chairman of the Darien Community Association Scholarship Committee.  “And that’s simply not the case.”

The DCA is the largest provider of college scholarships to Darien High School graduates, granting $50,000 each year, including continued funding during college.

“The fact is that many of the 96% of students who typically attend college will struggle with the costs,” explains Vogel.  “Each year we meet with successful students who have year-round jobs, and who are doing everything they can to pay for their education – and it’s still not enough.”

She notes that the cost of attending private colleges and universities can top $60,000 a year and out-of-state public universities can cost upwards of $40,000 a year.  At the University of Connecticut, incoming freshmen can expect to pay $27,000 (including tuition, room and board). With ongoing education costs at these levels, it makes it difficult for many families to afford a traditional four-year college experience.

In fact, according to the most recently available state data, some families face many challenges, and not just with college.  There are more families and children in Darien, as compared to similar-sized local towns, receiving state assistance for health care.  And 5.2% in Darien actually live in poverty (as compared to 2.2% in New Canaan and 2.5% in Wilton).

“We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of students in our community who need help,” said Kate Larson, scholarship committee co-chairman with Vogel.  Last year, the DCA received scholarship applications from 35 Darien High School seniors, and was able to award 18 scholarships.

The DCA distinguishes itself by offering funding for students during all four years of college. As students who receive financial aid for college near graduation, the aid they get from their school typically declines. The DCA scholarships help to fill the gap and get them to graduation. “Each year it’s a delicate balancing act between awarding scholarships to graduating high school seniors and supporting the students already in college who are still in need of help,” says Larson.

Over the years, the DCA has given more than $2 million in awards to over 1300 DHS graduates.  “We have been the largest provider of total scholarship funding each year,” according to DCA Executive Director Amy Bell.  “Even when combined with the efforts of other non-profits who also offer scholarships, based on the increased cost of tuition, we are collectively not meeting the need in our community.”

This is unfortunate in a town such as Darien, given its commitment to high-quality education and supporting the hard work of its young people.  “We are trying to increase the awareness of just how challenging it is for some of them to continue their education, and encouraging residents to support the organizations who are trying to help them,” says Bell.

Granting scholarships has been tremendously gratifying for the DCA and its scholarship committee volunteers for more than 70 years.  For some recipients, life has come full-circle, and they are giving back to the community that lent them a hand.  One is serving on the DCA Board of Directors, another served our town as first selectman, another has volunteered for many of her 89 years at the DCA Thrift Shop, and a fourth is using his architectural degree to help transform numerous buildings in town.

DHS seniors wishing to apply for scholarships from community organizations will have the opportunity to do so through a common application available in the guidance department, beginning at the end of February.  More information about the DCA and its scholarship program, including how to donate, is available at dariendca.org. Individuals, families or businesses interested in creating a named scholarship should contact the DCA office at 203-655-9050.










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