There is money to be had and it is not just the mission, but the purpose of Oakdale High School Career and Scholarship Technician Lisa Jones to see that graduating seniors get their fair share.
“We have such a generous community. So giving,” Jones said. “I couldn’t do it without them.”
Now in her third year as the Scholarship Technician, Jones said she is both encouraged as well as moved by the generosity. Her focus currently, however, is ensuring that each and every senior takes advantage of the opportunity to secure some of the “free” money. With a deadline looming of Friday, Nov. 30, it would make sense that Jones has set this on high priority.
“The beauty of our program is it’s completely on-line,” she said of the on-line application developed by OHS IT staffer Joe Gilbert. “They can work from their pj’s in their bed.”
A process which once included completing form after form by longhand, has now been streamlined to one which asks a handful of questions, requires some information and then uses the data to pick all the scholarships the student qualifies for.
The important additional piece, according to Jones, is the Free Application for Student Financial Aid (FASFA).
“There are some students that don’t have a high need,” she noted of financial aid, “but that doesn’t mean the family can actually afford that amount of college.
“We encourage each and every student to do the FASFA,” she continued, “only because we want them to have that information, especially if they’re applying for a four-year school. They need that information.”
In May of 2018, 168 graduating OHS students collected a total of $250,000 in scholarship money. An amount which surpassed the goal Jones set for herself when first stepping into her current role.
Jones shared when she first came on board, the scholarship total was $160,000. At that time she set a goal for herself to bring it up to $200,000 over the next few years.
“Last year I made and broke that with a quarter of a million dollars free money for our kids,” she said.
On the topic of “free money” Jones acknowledges some students confuse the idea of need versus qualify as a bit of a roadblock with encouraging applying. With 148 donors currently contributing to scholarship opportunities, she noted that many are specialized beyond a grade point average.
“Everyone’s criteria is different for their scholarship. Many can also be applied to vocational and trade school. Our donors are now seeing the importance of that as well,” Jones said. “What I hear from students is, if my parents can afford my cell phone, they can afford college. That’s just not necessarily the case, it’s free money.”
Now in her third year, Jones makes it clear the reward comes through offering the donors the opportunity to maybe honor a loved one through providing a scholarship or pay forward good fortune, as well as seeing the students receive the generosity.
“We have seen growth here every year since I’ve been here,” she said, “and again you can’t do it without the community.”