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This week, local philanthropists, businesses and nonprofits handed out scholarships to more than 40 seniors soon to graduate from Sedona Red Rock High School.

The Sedona Red Rock News was among the donors, giving a $500 scholarship to Kathleen Ritter, a talented student journalist of teacher Maureen Barton. Ritter will head off to Penn State this fall and hopefully enter Fourth Estate with a journalism degree in four years.

News Editor Christopher Fox GrahamGoing to college or a university is not the simple undertaking it once was when merit and character alone assured a top student a four-year education and all the benefits of a degree afterward.

Today’s seniors face tuition costs that have skyrocketed over the last decade. Those who tough it out through college academically and learn how to avoid or at least adapt to all the after-school temptations and earn a degree are faced with a job market that greets them unenthusiastically after graduation.

Some students — and sometimes their parents — may think college isn’t right for them, so they immediately enter the job market. But a college degree is still worth every effort: the long days of study, paying for tuition and books, skipping out on parties to study, attending classes daily and dealing with sometimes inflexible professors and overworked teaching assistants who may be tough but are only doing their best to educate and produce skilled graduates.

According to a report by the Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce, the average American with just a high school diploma earns $1.30 million over their lifetime. Americans with bachelor’s degrees earn an average of $2.27 million and those with a master’s degree earn $2.67 million. Besides getting the nifty “Ph.D.” after their name, those with a doctorate earn $3.25 million while those who earn a professional degree — doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, dentists, veterinarians, etc. — earn $3.65 million.

Even those who drop out of college after a few years still earn an average of $1.55 million over their lifetime, $250,000 more than those who never went.

Our high school seniors need all the help we can give them. The three Arizona state universities used to offer full-ride scholarships, but the increasing costs — i.e. lost revenue for the universities — led the Board of Regents to cut back on the scholarships this year, meaning talented graduates in the class of 2013 will pay far more than equally talented students from the class of 2012.

To help our young adults succeed, we in the community should step up and offer more scholarships. The payoff of $1,000, $500 or even $300 can add up to millions over a lifetime. Nonprofits, businesses and individuals with money to donate can offer a scholarship by contacting Sedona Red Rock High School. The criteria is up to the donor — if you run a retail shop, volunteer at Sedona Community Center and paint watercolors in your free time: offer an entrepreneurial scholarship, one for students going into social work and a third for young visual artists.

Handing over a check to a bright-eyed senior with dreams for a grand future is worth every penny.

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