VERMONT - Students who are dying to go to college but getting killed by high tuition costs might consider a new career path: funeral director.
The Vermont Funeral Directors Association  has just announced that it will offer four $500 scholarships for the first time. The disbursements will go to students interested in pursuing a career in professional bereavement care, or just care-giving in general. Greg Camp, executive director for the VFDA, explains, "We wanted to open it up to anyone in the business of caregiving, not just funeral directors, but nurses and other caregivers, too. It will be a growing need in the coming years."
The VFDA will be partial to students who anticipate developing "strong qualities of care-giving as a result of furthering their education." The criteria include a 100-word essay describing the applicant's "commitment to serving families in times of difficulty."
While a scholarship from funeral directors might seem a little offbeat, in fact it joins a varied and colorful list of other gifts from unexpected sources. The Vermont Student Assistance Corporation website  includes scholarships from the following for 2007-08: the Champlain Valley Street Rodders, the Green Mountain Dog Club, the Julia Child Foundation, the National Association of Social Workers, the National Association of Women in Construction, Vermont Lakes and Ponds, the associations for Vermont Grocers and Vermont Trappers.
Julie Dimmock, a guidance counselor at Champlain Valley Union High School  in Hinesburg, helps seniors find money for college wherever they can. Besides the inevitable essay, eligibility usually depends on a student's grade point average, community service and financial need, she says. But Dimmock adds that other criteria might include career orientation, race, family background or even town of residency.
This year's VSAC catalogue also includes scholarships for single moms, for students who take a stand against homophobia, and for those who have overcome a physical challenge or illness.
Even with Vermont companies, associations and memorial funds offering a variety of opportunities, Dimmock still worries, "If your college costs $40,000 a year, these local scholarships will help, but most are less than $2000." She adds, "There are scholarships offering as much as $10,000 a year, but they're usually nationwide, so they're extremely competitive."
Dimmock has good reason to be worried for her seniors scrambling for financial aid. The New York Times recently reported that state per-pupil spending on financial aid is at its lowest in 25 years. While having a college diploma seems increasingly indispensable, tuition costs climb every year, and non-loan financial aid is getting rarer. In the Times article, Tamara Drant, author of Strapped: Why America's 20- and 30-Somethings Can't Get Ahead, claims the government "no longer really helps people pay for college - it helps them go into debt."
Faced with that daunting prospect, some Vermont high school seniors will no doubt appreciate even a modest contribution from the state's funeral directors. A little compassionate consolation might be welcome, too.