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/ Source: TODAY

The rising cost of higher education has been increasingly at the forefront of national education concerns. While several of the top-tier schools are taking steps to address the neediest students, these only impact a very small population.

The majority of parents — even upper-middle-class parents — are feeling the squeeze. The cost of tuition, particularly at state schools as well as those historically considered second- and third-tier, continues to rise. Federal funding for higher education has been increasingly shifting from grants to loans. And now that we’re in a nationwide credit crunch, it may get tougher to secure a student loan. Private lenders are scaling back on the number and size of the loans they make.

The credit crunch will tighten availability for some private loans, and raise the rate on those private loans. Not to create panic, but it means that you’re going to have to shop around at more banks than usual. Most college financial aid offices give a list of lenders, but you’ll want to expand that list even more. Major banks may be your best bet. And searching for private scholarships becomes all the more important.

By the time they graduate, nearly two-thirds of students at four-year colleges and universities have student loan debt (66.4 percent in 2004). In 1993, less than one-half of four-year graduates had student loans. Over the past decade, debt levels for graduating seniors with student loans more than doubled from $9,250 to $19,200 (source: Project on Student Debt) ... and it’s not unusual to hear about student debt reaching $50,000, $60,000 and beyond. Again, searching for private scholarships becomes all the more important.

Here are some resources for finding scholarship information:

  • Deadline: March 31.
  • The two best Web sites are

Herer are some examples of unusual scholarships:

  • Dartmouth College's "Sons of Wheelock" scholarship: Full tuition goes to any child from the town of Wheelock, Vt., who is admitted. (Wheelock is named for Eleazar Wheelock, who in 1769 founded Dartmouth College. After Eleazar died, his son John, the second president of Dartmouth, was desperate to find a way to keep the school afloat. He asked the Vermont Legislature for help and in 1785, Vermont granted Dartmouth 9,300 hectares of land in a town it named Wheelock. Over the years, Dartmouth collected rents in money and kind from farmers in the town. The story goes that the offer of free tuition was made in the 1830s when Dartmouth President Nathan Lord was in Wheelock collecting rent. No one knows for sure why or under what circumstances, but Lord is said to have quipped, 'Anytime anybody wants to go to Dartmouth, send him down.')
  • Loyola University's Zolp scholarship: Full tuition goes to any Catholic student whose last name is Zolp (scholarship was established by a Catholic priest, Father Zolp, who attended Loyola.)
  • Ohio State University: Full tuition to one student in each of the state's 88 counties; students must be academically qualified and come from homes where the income is less than $40,000 annually.
  • AAA Michigan's School Safety Patrol scholarship: $1,000 for students in good academic standing who were members of their school safety patrol.
  • Juanita College's (Huntington, Pa.) Buckley scholarship: $1,000 for students in good academic standing who are left-handed.
  • Hood College's (Frederick, Md.) heritage scholarship: Lets incoming freshmen pay the same first-year tuition as their parents or grandparents paid.
  • Tall Clubs International scholarship: $1,000 for women who are at least 5' 10" and men who are at least 6 '2".
  • Duck Brand Duct Tape "Stuck at the Prom" Contest: $5,000 scholarship to the high school couple wearing the best attire fashioned entirely out of duct tape.
  • The Chick and Sophie Major Memorial Duck Calling Contest: A $1,500 scholarship to any high school senior who can call a duck. Specifically, winners must be proficient in four calls: hailing, feeding, comeback and mating calls.
  • Millennium Scholarship: $10,000 to students who have lived in Nevada for at least 2 years before they graduate from high school. It is funded by Nevada's portion of the lawsuit settlement against national tobacco companies; seniors must have a 3.1 GPA.
  • Patrick Kerr Skateboard Scholarship: One $5,000 and three $1,000 scholarships to students who promote skateboarding. Created by a Philadelphia mother after her 15-year-old son was killed while skateboarding last June. Applicants are judged by their community activism and an essay on "how skateboarding has been a positive influence in my life."
  • Western Golf Association's Evans Scholars Foundation: Full tuition and housing for high school seniors who are in the top 25 percent of their class and have served as caddies for two years or more.