It’s no secret that college tuition has skyrocketed over the last several decades. U.S. News, best known for its annual rankings of Top Colleges, recently published data following tuition rates over the last 20 years. The media company focused its research on 381 ranked public and private National Universities, defined as “often research-oriented universities that offer bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees.” According to the data, the average tuition and fees at these schools has grown a mind-boggling 154% over the last two decades.
In the interest of affordability, many families choose to send their children to in-state public National Universities like UW-Madison. These schools are still competitive and are generally less expensive, yet their tuition and fees has jumped an even more dramatic 221%.
These national statistics directly affect many Lakeland Union High School alumni. LUHS students are ambitious, pursuing higher education at prestigious institutions — from the Big Ten to the Ivy League — but as their dreams flourish, the wallets of their families grow thin.
Creating a legacy
It is thanks to the foresight of three men in the 1970s the burden of college tuition can be less daunting for local students and families. Bob O’Leary, Ed Baumback and John “Bud” Ames established the Lakeland Area Scholarship Fund in 1973 and since then, the fund has awarded thousands of dollars to LUHS alumni. LASF post-secondary scholarships empower these aspiring nurses, teachers, and scientists, allowing them to access more opportunities within their institutions and beyond.
This year, board members awarded 14 students a combined total of $34,050 with scholarship amounts ranging from $1,100 up to $4,500.
Awarding scholarships is a two-step process. First, a selection committee composed of five judges from various backgrounds within the community individually review and score each application.
“The judges look at all aspects of the application, including the timeliness, accuracy and completeness, and of course the content of the students’ work and experiences,” board member Peter Nomm said. Judges do not follow a set rubric, but in order to achieve fairness, the highest and the lowest scores for each applicant are thrown out and only the remaining three are tallied.
After the scoring is complete, it is the board’s job to determine how to distribute that year’s fund.
“The board’s main priority is to safeguard the funds so that there are scholarships to award for future students,” board member Kim Widmer said.
Out of the 21 students who applied for LASF post-secondary scholarships this year, two-thirds received an award. This may seem like a high percentage, but Widmer affirmed that each scholarship is well-deserved.
“The caliber of students applying for the scholarships is outstanding,”?Widmer said. “These students have high GPAs and are often involved on their campuses. Some of the applicants have been student athletes, leaders of campus organizations, some volunteer as mentors and lab assistants, others are working while in college and they all feel passionate about their chosen fields.”
This year’s applicant pool was no exception and included students currently attending universities such as Notre Dame, UW-Madison, and Harvard.
The cream of the crop
For the second year in a row, Lauren Shilling proved to be the top applicant, earning the UW-Madison Otto B award as well as an additional LASF scholarship for a combined total of $4,500. This is now Shilling’s third time applying and the third year she’s earned an LASF scholarship. Shilling said the additional funding has made an impact on her everyday life.
“My main motivation in applying is to maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle while I’m studying at school,” she said. “By covering my most important needs — housing and groceries — these funds have eased my mind of financial stress and allowed me to more enthusiastically engage with my studies.”
Shilling also credits the funds with enabling her to take advantage of opportunities she otherwise couldn’t, such as staying in Madison during the summer to assist on university research projects.
This year’s second-highest earner was Haley Fritsche, who was awarded $4,000 in the form of the John Ames scholarship. This is Fritsche’s second scholarship from the LASF as she works toward earning her degree in early childhood education at UW-Whitewater. Fritsche said the funding has been instrumental in offsetting the cost of tuition as she pursues her passion.
“I love the relationships that I've created and the topics I am learning about, but without the financial help from the LASF I do not know if I would’ve had the same experience,” she said.
Mason Olson, the third-highest awardee, said he also plans to put his $3,500 scholarship toward tuition. Like Shilling and Fritsche, this is not the first scholarship he has received from LASF. He said his overall college experience has benefitted from past funding.
“Putting the money towards tuition has allowed for me to focus on my studies and work fewer hours in my job on campus,” he explained. Now a junior at St. Norbert, Olson will look to utilize this year’s LASF scholarship in the same way.
All three students expressed immense gratitude for the LASF board members as well as community member donors.
“This fund is an incredible reflection on the Lakeland area's value of education and change-making. Community members play an active role in supporting students so that they can expand their perspectives, find their voices, and ultimately pass on the goodwill,” Shilling said.
Other students who earned scholarships this year are Kamryn Slomka, Morgan Angrove, Kailey Godfrey, Mack FitzPatrick, Rachel Buns, Brina Trapp, Jack Melms, Will Bodewes, Megan Laurence, Tarynn Kuchler, and Juliana Dutcher.
Coming full circle
The value of the LASF extends not only to individual students, but to the entire community. Speaking from her perspective as a board member, Widmer said, “I believe these students will be the future leaders in our community and nation. It is important that we help them reach their goals.”
Fellow board member Hal Yelton shared Widmer’s sentiments. Yelton has served on the board since 2013 and continues to believe whole-heartedly that the LASF is a strong asset to the Lakeland area.
“I think our kids’ education is vital in keeping our community and society as a whole advancing and ready for whatever the future brings,” he said. “The scholarships that LASF provides students lets them know that their hard work and achievements do not go unnoticed.”
LUHS principle Justin Szews became one of the newest additions to the board this past May. He said joining the LASF board is simply an extension of his mission as school principal: to ensure students are “college- and career-ready.”
Szews sees the scholarships as a win-win for students and the community.
“It is in the best interest of any community to have a highly skilled, highly trained, and highly educated workforce — and pitching in to help out with students’ post secondary education is a great way to help that cause,” he said.
Though the LASF has clearly established itself over the last 46 years, it is important that it not be taken it for granted, and as Yelton pointed out, “We are fortunate as a small town to have had some very generous people through the years make donations to this fund.”
It seems doubtful the Lakeland area will run short of generous people and ambitious students any time soon. Community members are encouraged to continue making contributions to the fund and students are encouraged to keep applying.
“The LASF has already served hundreds of students, and from the looks of the organization at this point in time — LASF will continue to do so decades into the future,” Szews said. Lakeland students can continue to dream big, knowing their community stands behind them.