While thousands of financially strapped high school graduates are giving up on college as too expensive, millions of dollars in potential scholarship money is going unclaimed.
Just this week, the president of Phi Delta Kappa, Inc., the professional educators' association, was complaining that its annual $100,000 fund of scholarships for aspiring black teachers was largely untapped.
E. Lucille Minor said she was especially concerned now that the ratio of black teachers, up to 15 percent a few years ago, has dwindled to single digits.
The problem -- or at any rate, one of the problems -- is the difficulty of getting scholarship information to the people who need it.
A New Jersey man, Mark Cohen, has turned the problem into a business opportunity. The founder and owner of Academic Guidance Services has spent the past dozen years matching would-be students with scholarship possibilities.
For a fee of $59, Cohen, through nearly 100 licensees nationwide, will guarantee a minimum of five scholarship "sources," based on need, career interests and affiliations.
He is careful to say that his firm does not guarantee scholarships: only that he will put an applicant in touch with the people who grant the scholarships. He says he has no way of knowing what percentage of his applicants actually get scholarships, or in what amounts. But he cites the word-of-mouth increases in application and "hundreds" of testimonials from students as evidence that his computerized scheme works.
David N. Butler, a Cohen licensee in Indianapolis (Nationwide Student Guidance Services), says that nearly $4 billion from some 4,000 sources is available for undergraduate, graduate and vocational study.
Most of the publications designed to help prospective students find that money are necessarily general. Cohen promises to limit the search to live possibilities.
For instance, an Arkansas student, a Methodist with an interest in accounting and whose father is a member of the Teamsters Union, was referred to awards sponsored by the American Accounting Association, Aetna Life & Casualty, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the United Methodist Student Loan Fund.
A Minnesota applicant whose interests include meteorology and forestry received referrals to the American Meteorological Society and the Soil Conservation Society of America.
Any applicant for whom the service fails to find at least five "sources" has his $59 refunded (up to four are free). The average number of referrals, according to Cohen, is "close to 15," with actual grants ranging from $100 a year to full four-year tuition-and-expenses scholarships.
"It's been estimated that something like $135 million in financial aid goes unclaimed every year," said Cohen. "That's from Kenneth Kohl and Irene Kohl's book, 'Financing College Education.' There's a lot of money out there; we help the student find it: special-interest scholarships, athletic scholarships, the whole range."
Adds Butler: "The key is to get the appropriate information into the computer so we can match the students' background and interest with the right sources. There's even scholarship money available for people whose last name is Anderson."
It doesn't follow that any particular applicant will succeed in finding financial aid or that the aid he does find will be enough to make the critical difference.
Still, for the high school graduate for whom a college education hangs in the balance, $59 might not be a bad gamble.
And for a black aspiring teacher, Phi Delta Kappa improves the odds.
The point is not that scholarship money is there for the asking but that a lot of people who need it don't know how to ask for it. With the federal government backing out of the financial-aid business, it's a resource worth considering.