Partnership allows South Portland grads, not colleges, to keep more scholarship money

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SOUTH PORTLAND — A local group is teaming up with a national organization to ensure that South Portland High School graduates can maximize financial aid and scholarships for college.

Project Scholarship was launched in 2007 by a group of local residents with a vision to give every SPHS graduate a college scholarship.

But Co-Chairman Ralph Cabana said that students were finding their financial aid packages were being reduced by the amount of their scholarships.

“In effect, we were giving money to the college, not the students,” Cabana said.

This year will be different.

Project Scholarship is now partnering with the national Dollars for Scholars program, which will allow students to receive scholarships without the gifts adversely affecting their financial aid packages.

Cabana said, in some cases, the partnership could put even more money into students pockets. Colleges like St. Joseph’s in Standish will match some scholarships dollar-for-dollar, he said.

Cabana said the new partnership led the group to rename itself South Portland Dollars for Scholars.

The program, which primarily raises money through alumni mailings, has steadily increased the size of its scholarships over the last few years.

In 2008, scholarships averaging $100 each were given to about 40 students. Last year, more than 20 students received awards of $200.

This year, Cabana expects to distribute between 25 and 30 scholarships, the amounts of which are still being finalized.

SPHS guidance counselor Julie King said the scholarships are given to students who fill out a local scholarship application form, but are not selected.

King said the economy, coupled with the likelihood that every student will receive some scholarship money, is increasing the number of applications submitted.

“Usually, it’s the kids that are most resistant (to apply) that are the most successful (in being selected),” King said. “I usually tell kids they are almost guaranteed to get something.”

King said that other scholarship programs, like those run by school booster clubs, will also benefit from the partnership. Last year, about $188,000 was given to students, who subsequently had their financial aid packages reduced.

“By participating in Dollars for Scholars, you don’t have to worry about that,” King said.

The scholarships will be presented in a June 4 assembly.

Those who would like to make a tax-deductible donation may send checks payable to South Portland Dollars for Scholar  to: SPHS DFS, South Portland High School, 637 Highland Ave., South Portland, ME 04106.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or