April 5, 2020

Alumna uncovers fate of unrewarded scholarships

By Colleen Murphy
’16 alumna

Several students and recent graduates of the College applied for scholarship money which, to date, has never been distributed. Not only is this a disservice to those students, but it also does not meet the high ethical and moral standards the College sets for itself.

Each year, the College has a school-wide call for applications for its Student Leadership/Engagement scholarships and awards. During my first two years at the College, the award finalists were announced through fliers around the campus. Then, the winners were announced at a pretty lavish ceremony held at the end of each year.

I had applied for several scholarship awards those two years and did so again my junior year. However, I never heard anything about the finalists or winners that third year. I let that go, though, and didn’t ask about why the award winners were never announced.

But then the call for the Student Leadership/Engagement scholarship award nominations was sent out again during my senior year. I was confused as to why they would hold another round of awards if the previous year’s winners were never announced. Maybe the Division of Student Affairs just decided to run the program differently and they were no longer announcing the winners?

To find out for sure, before applying my senior year for the 2016 awards, I called the Office of Leadership, which is the contact for any questions regarding these awards, and asked about the 2015 awards. I was told that the awards were not given out that year and that they would wait until the 2016 awards to hand them out together. I was told that the applications that were submitted for the awards in 2015 were still on-file and that they would use those to select the winners. So, it was my understanding that in 2016, the school would learn of both the 2015 and 2016 award winners.

In the Spring 2016 semester, the time for the 2015/2016 scholarship award finalists and winners to be announced came and went — just like what happened in 2015. Now, maybe they just decided to tell the winners they won privately. But I thought the same thing about the 2015 awards and that turned out to not be the case, so I called the office to find out who won the awards.

The Office of Leadership provided me a list of winners for the 2016 awards. While I was disappointed to learn I did not win, a couple of my friends were on the list, and I was happy for them. I asked about the 2015 award winners, if there was a record of that since I was told those would be announced in 2016, too. However, I was told that the 2015 applications were used in combination with the 2016 applications.

First, it is unfair that the students who applied in 2015 and 2016 had to compete against double the amount of people they should have been now that two years’ worth of applicants were being used to select one year’s winners. In addition, did the 2016 winners receive double the amount of scholarship money (receiving the money intended for the 2015 winners)? I didn’t understand where the 2015 money went.

These scholarships are named after alumni, so obviously there are people who donated money and expected a certain amount to be given away each year. I was taught in my journalism classes at the College to “follow the money.” And as a student and former editor-in-chief of The Signal, I really wanted to know where this money — intended for students — ended up.

The Office of Leadership told me that since these were endowed scholarships, the Division of College Advancement would be able to answer what happened with the money intended for the 2015 scholarships. After speaking to someone at the Division of College Advancement, I found out where that money ended up: the same place it’s been sitting for the past couple years — in an account waiting to be handed out.

The Division of College Advancement told me that while the 2016 scholarship money was given away, its office never received a list of winners for the 2015 awards from the Office of Leadership. And so, the money couldn’t be awarded because the Division of College Advancement had no one to award the money to.

While I was pleased to find out that this money was, in fact, set aside for students and students only, I could not believe that there was money sitting somewhere that had not been awarded when it was supposed to.

After finding out that the scholarship money was still with the College, I called back the Office of Leadership to ask them about it. The person on the phone told me the office never presented a list of 2015 winners because it was a “busy” time back in 2015.

I could not — and still can’t — believe that the excuse I was given as to why these scholarships were never given out was because the administration was too busy to do it. I couldn’t use that excuse when I had a paper due — why is the Office of Leadership allowed to use it when explaining why scholarship money was not given away to the students who took the time to apply for it? If they were too busy to care about the awards, they should not have advertised them in the first place.

The Office of Leadership is located in Green Hall. (tcnj.edu)

I, of course, wish I would have been awarded a scholarship in any of the years I applied, but not having won an award is not why I am so upset about this. It’s so wrong that students spent hours writing multiple essays for several scholarship awards that were then never given out.

When I told the office this — that the reason I continued looking into this even after I graduated was because as a former editor of the newspaper, I felt it was my duty to let students know what the school was doing with its money — I was told that this was not a newsworthy story. However, I also learned in my journalism classes to hold the powerful accountable.

That’s why I wrote this opinion piece. I am holding the College — specifically the Office of Leadership and the Division of Student Affairs — accountable for not being as transparent as it could have been with students.

And so I ask you, the Office of Leadership and the Division of Student Affairs: When will the money that was set aside for the 2015 Student Leadership/Engagement scholarships actually be given to students? To whom will this money be awarded? Do the alumni who donated the funds for these scholarships know their money wasn’t awarded at the intended date?

Will you be apologizing to the students who took the time to apply for the 2015 and 2016 awards for not considering their application against only the respective year’s applicants? Should you have let them know you weren’t going to be awarding anybody a scholarship that year as soon as you realized you were too “busy” to do so? And lastly, do you now see why this actually is newsworthy?


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