High school seniors basically must choose between two paths to mature adulthood.

One promises a measure of self-discovery and a host of desirable life outcomes, including greater affluence and longevity. Statistically speaking, the other offers considerably less in the way employment opportunities and personal growth.

I am simplifying, but those who forgo college or vocational training are to a certain extent choosing the latter over the former.

A college degree or vocational training is an absolute must in today’s world, especially given the rapid pace of societal change stemming from technological advancements. There are reams of data attesting to the value of post-secondary education, and I think most parents intuitively understand what’s at stake.

So why the lingering reluctance in some households to do all that is necessary to make college a reality for today’s students? Cost.

According to one estimate, tuition, fees and room and board at private four-year colleges and universities averaged almost $47,000 annually during the 2017-18 academic year. That’s a 3.5-percent increase over the year prior.

The in-state total to attend a public four-year university is considerably less, averaging just about $21,000 annually, and local students can realize significant savings by attending Allan Hancock College, with its wonderful Promise Program.

Still, the overall cost to complete an undergraduate degree, to say nothing of a graduate degree, can be daunting, particularly for families of limited means.

That’s where organizations like the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara come in. We are the nation’s largest community-based provider of college scholarships, having cumulatively awarded in excess of $108 million to more than 50,000 Santa Barbara County students since our founding in 1962. The Scholarship Foundation also provides free financial aid advising services.

We are not alone. There are literally thousands of college scholarships available throughout the United States from schools, private companies, nonprofits, religious groups and professional and social organizations, among others. Federal Pell Grants, which largely operate like scholarships, are available to undergraduates who display exceptional financial need.

The point is twofold — there is an abundance of financial assistance available to today’s students and their families, and completing a college education or vocational training need not result in unmanageable student loan debt.

I urge you to review the Scholarship Foundation’s 2018 annual report in this newspaper. There you will read about our organization’s efforts and their far-reaching effects in the communities we serve.

An educated community is more often than not a prosperous community. With that in mind, we welcome support from our friends and neighbors throughout the county.

The Scholarship Foundation’s application for financial aid for the 2019-20 academic year opens on Oct. 15. Whether you contact us or another scholarship provider, the message for today’s students and their families is clear — post-secondary education is essential to a brighter future. Do not let concerns about affordability derail your college dreams.

Tosha Lewis is director of programs and evaluation at the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara.

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