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When baby boomers rocked the halls of academe, most of our parents were able to find a viable plan for paying tuition, room, and board. Others took out loans which did not relegate them to a diet of unsalted Saltines for 30 years, or force them to consider illegal trafficking in body parts or other organic products. Some of us were able to save enough money to pay tuition ourselves by enduring summer jobs and campus work-study assignments with uncharacteristic diligence. The phrase "working one's way through college" was not yet marked with the asterisk reserved by lexicographers for obsolete usage. But in 1969, tuition, room and board at one of the country's most expensive colleges came to about five thousand dollars a year. Though a daunting figure to middle and lower class families, most believed that education was a worthwhile investment, and baby boomers filled establishments of higher learning in unprecedented numbers.

Though the cohort of boomers was numerically larger than numbers of children born in similar groupings today, a greater percentage of boomer children and grandchildren seek higher education after high school. We, their parents and grandparents, feel obligated to fund a college education that is predicted to cost about $200,000 for a student graduating from a private university in the year 2005. The possibility of earning such a sum in summer jobs and part-time employment on campus would suggest that students wait until they are 85 years old to matriculate. By saving everything they earn at Dairy Queen or Girl Scout Camp, and cutting down on social expenditures, there should definitely be enough in the college account for each octogenarian to fund a year or two without loans. The sad part about this arrangement is that few students will be lucky enough to have their parents attend graduation.

I was pondering this predicament as my youngest child, a high school senior, pored over a plethora of college viewbooks. I have always told my children that education is a primary value in our family and that they should choose the school of their choice without regard to financial issues. "If you find the right school," I have always emphasized foolishly, "I will pay the tuition if I have to stand outside with a bowl to beg." Well, I think it's time to do some upper-body strengthening exercises. It looks as though I'm going to be holding a bowl the size of the Polar ice-cap. $200,000 is no small chunk of change.

Suddenly, as I flipped disheartened through the Sunday Times, I came upon an interesting article. "Boolah, Boolah," blared the headline, "for Odd Scholarship Moolah, Moolah." Now, I am particularly sensitive to scholarship scams, and was about to pass it off as another way for con artists to make money by preying on people's ignorance, desperation, and dreams. Imagine my surprise when I learned that I was reading a list of legitimate scholarship offers, possibly the solution to the financial problems of many a boomer scion. Of course, there were conditions and requirements for each scholarship, but I think it only important that we impart our work ethic to the following generations. Sure, they can buy their shirts already tie-dyed and their clothing pre-fringed. They probably have no idea that we literally had to create the originals in sinks and kitchens all over America. But what's an essay or two for the possibility of a big pay off?

In my opinion, some requirements were a bit esoteric, like the one reserved for an applicant active or related to someone active in harness racing. Others could even be categorized as macabre, like the scholarship reserved for someone whose parent was killed or disabled in a work-related construction zone accident. This was a rather hefty scholarship, causing me to worry that some parents might choose to enter the category voluntarily in the hopes of making their children eligible. In the same category of belonging to a club you wish you didn't qualify for is the scholarship offered to an amputee or the child of an amputee who is a member of the National Amputee Golf Association. One that might be much easier to qualify for, if only on temporary basis, requires that the applicant be overweight and submit an essay. Unfortunately, the sum did not seem large enough to compensate for the costs to be incurred later at Jenny Craig as a result of falsifying eligibility.

Another section includes scholarships for hobbyists, though the categories certainly do span more than the wide world of sports. If you like dogs, or even if you don't, but can write a really cogent essay on "Why People Own Dogs," you could win up to two thousand dollars. A surfing association is offering a hefty hunk of tuition to the student who excels in both surfing and community involvement. The catch here is probably that these two pursuits are usually mutually exclusive. The one person who does both will truly deserve that scholarship. The Coleopterists Society (don't look it up yet, you1ll ruin the surprise) is offering a scholarship to a student planning to major in: (Surprise!) Beetles. The applicant must have beetles as a hobby or talent and submit a proposal for a project or activity promoting the study of beetles. I read this one carefully. It didn't say whether they had to be dead or alive.

Perhaps the most interesting extra-curricular pursuit to be rewarded by scholarship money is touted by the American Association for Nude Recreation. The applicant must possess the following hobby or talent: Social nudism. I was a bit perplexed by this one. I understand how nudism could be a hobby, but I don't quite understand how it could be perceived as a talent. Perhaps the student applying for this scholarship would be well directed to some of our universities which offer clothing-optional dorms.

Finally, there are two categories where it is impossible to hoodwink the committees. One is so incredibly specific that you must fit precisely into two categories you must be left-handed and enrolled in Juniata College. I suppose you could scratch out a reasonable penmanship with your left hand even if you really are a righty, but there are always brain scans and lie detector tests. And finally, there is the Jefferson Davis Award. If it were only necessary to show proof that you are a true descendant of the Confederacy, perhaps someone might be tempted to apply for this scholarship with less than authenticated lineage, but none but a true descendant of Dixie could ever muster the magnolias to write the essay required for this stipend The Significance of a Southern Heritage.

I am no longer concerned about finding the hundreds of thousands of dollars I will need for my son's tuition. Why, just the other day, I saw him step definitively on a beetle in the front garden. He looked at it for at least thirty seconds before he trounced. If that's not an activity promoting the study of beetles, I don't know what is. And as for "Why People Own Dogs," I'm planning to bring that up as a topic for discussion at dinner. If he says anything truly original, I'll make sure that he applies. We still may not make it over the top, but I'm sure there are many options left to consider. I don't think we1d ever pass the scrutiny of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, but there's no reason my son can't be considered for the Harness Tracks of America Scholarship. They require that the applicant "Must be the relative of someone who is or was active in harness racing." How bad could it be? I'll let you know after my first lesson.


Written by Marcia Brown Rubinstien
October 19, 2002

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