Reverse Scholarships: Paying people to come home, rather than to leave

Published 8:14 pm Saturday, December 29, 2018

By Zach Blanchard

Community organizations, churches, and foundations often offer scholarships to high school graduates to help pay for college. This is an admirable, well-meaning effort to help young adults pay for the increasingly high cost of college. I was lucky to receive small scholarships from the Mauriceville Elementary Parent Teachers Organization and Catholic Daughters of America, and was thankful for both.

However, if you look at these scholarship programs from a community perspective, we are shooting ourselves in the foot. We are encouraging high-achieving young adults to leave Orange and get expensive degrees, often in fields that have little or no employment opportunities back home, which then forces them to live and work in large cities to find the high-paying employment they need to pay off student loans and make up for four years of accumulating debt instead of wealth. Thus, traditional scholarship programs worsen “brain drain” from Orange, where young adults who do the best in high school become the most likely never to return to Orange. Brain drain has a very negative impact on local business, schools, and community life, which I discuss in a previous editorial column in August 2018.

However, the scholarship process can be reversed, encouraging people to return, rather than to leave. For instance, an innovative program called the Come Home Award Fund was launched in St. Clair County, Michigan, to pay students on the “back-end of their college career, after they have completed [their degree], but only if they agree to move back home and work within St. Clair County.” The Come Home Award Fund pays up to a total of $15,000 a quarter for young adults who have completed a two-year or four-year degree in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) within the last ten years, and the Fund specifically targets people in their late twenties who are considering returning home to start a family. In short, this “reverse scholarship” is really a recruiting program for the county supported by the Fund.  

Of course, reverse scholarships should only be one part of a larger effort to keep young people in Orange. We must also educate high schoolers on employment opportunities and provide occupational training for skills relevant to the local area. This is already being done on some levels – for instance, there are vocational opportunities at LCM that didn’t exist back when I was a student.

Additionally, there is a significant concern among residents that few jobs exist for degree-holders in Orange. A reverse scholarship program would be much more effective if it could also help link interested young adults with job opportunities back home. Thus, the program would need to not just raise money and select winners, but help connect those winners with employers.

In short, a community’s success is largely dependent on its ability to keep its young people and provide opportunities for employment across the blue collar-white collar spectrum. Traditional scholarships, while certainly well-intentioned, hurt a community’s ability to keep its young people. Reverse scholarships, on the other hand, help keep them. If you are on a scholarship board or know someone who is, I encourage you to consider making the switch.

Zac Blanchard is a 2011 LC-M graduate and holds degrees from the US Naval Academy and University of Cambridge. He is currently a Marine 1st Lieutenant in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and is the communications platoon commander for 2d Tank Battalion. He can be reached at