Students say scholarships make college accessible

Paris Broad, left, and Alyssa Gilbert share a moment during a reception for overseas scholarship recipients, Thursday, at Grand Old House. - Photo: Mark Muckenfuss

Without the Cayman Islands Government’s scholarship programme, Deondra Kelly said her college career would have been far different.

Kelly, 20, recently graduated from the University of South Florida in Tampa, with a degree in finance. She was one of about 50 overseas scholarship recipients who attended a reception in their honour Thursday evening at the Grand Old House.

If she had not received scholarship money, Kelly said, she likely would have had to study in the United Kingdom, far from her family and without the resources to occasionally come home during school breaks.

Having completed her first two years of study in Cayman, at the University College of the Cayman Islands, Kelly said she also has support to pursue a master’s degree, which she will begin this fall at Florida International University in Miami. Students can qualify for four years of aid.

“It’s something that allows you to reach your true potential, having not to worry about that financial part,” Kelly said, adding that her scholarship covered as much as 85% of her college costs. “I will forever be grateful for this opportunity.”

Kelly said she likely would have found a way to pursue her education without the government’s help. Others were not so sure. Lex Dobson and Alfie Parker, both 18, said without scholarships they would not be making their way overseas to study.

“I’d be working,” Parker said.

“Yeah,” Dobson agreed. “I’d be working.”

Instead, Parker, a Cayman Prep graduate, will begin studying business at Northumbria University in the UK. Dobson, who went to St. Ignatius, will pursue an accounting degree at Brock University in Canada.

They were sitting with Dominic Owens, 18, a St. Ignatius graduate who will be at the University of Bristol next month. All three students said they were unaware such scholarships were available to them until they reached their final year or two of high school.

“Our guidance counselor, before we got into Sixth Form, told us what scholarships were available,” Owens said.

A group of young women recipients also said they did not know about the government aid until Year 11 or Year 12. It was a double-edged sword said Aaliyah Ebanks, 18, a Cayman Prep graduate.

“It added and took away pressure,” Ebanks said. While it relieved some worries about how to finance her college education, “you had to make sure you got your passes”.

Students must meet certain academic criteria to be eligible for a scholarship and must maintain their college grades in order to continue receiving the assistance.

Most of the students in attendance Thursday evening said the scholarships they are receiving or have received will cover the bulk of their expenses. But for those going to school in high-rent areas, it may not go as far.

Alyssa Gilbert, 19, attended foundational courses in fashion at the University of the Arts in London last year without financial aid. This year, she said, the government scholarship she’s receiving will make “a ton of difference”, but will still only cover about 40 percent of her expenses.

“I live in central London,” she said. “It’s very expensive. My housing is more than my school fees.”

By contrast, her friend Paris Broad, 19, who is studying fashion at Southampton Solent University, three hours outside of London, expects her scholarship to cover most of her costs. She did not receive aid last year and the new support will help both her and her family, she said.

“It’s like stress off my parents and other family members,” she said. “I would constantly have to ask them to send me money.” Kelly spoke to the gathering and encouraged the students to take school seriously so they could continue to qualify for their scholarships.

“A lot of people do go overseas, but not a lot of people receive the support that we have received,” she said. “Remember what you’re leaving for and always keep your eyes on the prize.”