Science, technology, engineering and mathematics — better known as STEM — are highly competitive fields of study with versatile career opportunities. Businesses that hire lots of STEM majors can create more opportunities for students by offering a scholarship program.
All scholarship programs have the same basic premise — to provide grants that support a student’s education on the basis of academic performance, financial need or both. STEM scholarships are particularly beneficial because the academic standards for these fields are higher than other majors, which means college educations are generally more expensive.
By offering a STEM scholarship program, businesses can help aspiring professionals in their communities. They also might just find the next brilliant innovator who takes their organization to new heights.
How STEM Scholarship Programs Benefit Recipients
Although money is the main benefit, STEM scholarship programs benefit their recipients well beyond providing financial assistance.
1. Removes Financial Barriers
Recipients of STEM scholarship programs come from a wide range of economic backgrounds, which is by design. These scholarships are supposed to target academically gifted students who need a monetary boost to get through undergraduate or graduate school. As the most valuable college degrees available, STEM degrees naturally come with a high price.
Underprivileged students with STEM aspirations can’t afford such an expense. According to a 2022 survey, nearly half of American students see high costs and low diversity as the greatest barriers to STEM careers. Businesses that offer scholarship programs in these highly technical fields are breaking down those barriers and creating more equal opportunities.
To provide an example and a template, the Watermark Scholars Program For Women In STEM has been offering financial support to women pursuing STEM careers since 2020. Two of the recipients, Elayne Blancas and Elizabeth Landers, were planning to pursue careers as an engineer and physician, respectively.
2. Creates Industry Connections
In the process of providing financial aid, STEM scholarships also help students create lasting industry connections with mentors and sponsors. Organizations that offer these programs gain access to promising young innovators before they even start college. Local competitors can also connect with students on scholarships early on.
Students on scholarships also get more exposure to potential employers through networking events and career development programs. They can learn which organizations have attractive job openings or connect with other aspiring professionals in their field.
3. Accelerates Upward Mobility
By extension, scholarships accelerate upward mobility for recipients by allowing them to hit the ground running out of college. They have the education, skills and organizational support to make an immediate impact in their new positions. Additionally, they aren’t bogged down by six-figure student loans. They’re set up for a long and prosperous career.
How STEM Scholarship Programs Benefit Businesses
While the recipients are the main beneficiaries of STEM scholarships, these programs bring many perks to businesses as well. Here’s how offering just one scholarship can open doors for a growing organization.
1. Amplifies the Company Mission
A scholarship is an excellent way to amplify the company’s mission and demonstrate its values. Helping financially underprivileged students get an education resonates with everyone. Moreover, serving people in need can give a huge confidence boost to the whole organization, boosting employee morale and productivity. Never underestimate how powerful a random act of kindness can be.
2. Drives Brand Awareness
As more people hear about the scholarship program, brand awareness will naturally increase through word of mouth, search engines and social media. Teachers tell students, students tell their parents, and parents tell other parents. Over time, the scholarship becomes a talking point at dinner tables throughout the community.
In terms of search engine optimization (SEO), scholarship webpages can be gold mines for backlinks from colleges and universities. Every clicked backlink boosts the business’s domain authority a little more. Searches like “Company X Scholarship Program” can also increase website traffic, especially around peak college application season in January and February.
Discussions about the scholarship among parents, teachers and students on social media will also drive brand awareness. Follower counts may increase, each post will get more engagement, and the business will develop a better public image.
3. Boosts Employee Loyalty
Offering scholarships to future employees or current employees trying to finish their degrees is a great strategy to combat the skills gap and boost employee loyalty. According to a 2018 survey, 84% of 22,000 workers who received financial aid from their employers said that access to the program influenced their job decisions.
In the same study, 56% of workers said they would not have pursued higher education without support from their employers. In thousands of cases, scholarship programs were the key elements that convinced employees to further their education and commit to their organizations.
4. Helps With Market Research
Scholarship programs can also be useful for gathering market research on certain target audiences, namely younger consumers. Instead of investing a huge marketing budget in focus groups and user studies, businesses can interact with prospective customers through a more appealing channel.
Scholarship programs have a distinct advantage over other marketing strategies — authenticity. There’s no hidden agenda. Brands are simply helping students in financial need, and consumers feel much more inclined to rally around such a cause.
10 Key Steps for Planning a STEM Scholarship Program
Organizations that want to launch a STEM scholarship program can’t simply offer financial aid to students without authorization. They have to complete a handful of key steps to make the scholarship official:
- Establish an award constituency.
- Secure funding for the scholarship.
- Establish the eligibility criteria, such as income level and demographic information.
- Establish the selection criteria, such as GPA level and number of AP classes.
- Connect with potential applicants through school conferences, email and social media.
- Write up and distribute the scholarship application.
- Outline an implementation plan and timeline for gathering applications.
- Consider deadlines such as the academic calendar, financial aid application process and tuition due dates.
- Allocate the financial aid to the chosen recipient.
- Monitor the recipient’s academic performance and evaluate the program’s success.
Gathering the funds will be the most challenging part of the process. Businesses that launch company-related scholarship programs often partner with a non-profit organization to provide the necessary financial aid and raise awareness for the program. In this case, the scholarship must meet three requirements according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS):
- The scholarship’s preferential treatment must not extend beyond the initial financial qualifier.
- The selection of scholarship recipients must be moderated by an independent committee with no connection to the employer.
- Only qualified applicants or their children will receive scholarship grants.
After obtaining the funds, setting parameters around the scholarship becomes the main focus. Who can apply? How will the recipient be selected? How will the business stay connected with applicants and enforce academic standards? Businesses are at liberty to revoke the scholarship if recipients don’t hold up their end of the deal.
STEM Scholarships Create Positive Growth
STEM scholarship programs have a straightforward goal of providing opportunities to underprivileged students in expensive fields of study. However, they create positive growth well beyond the classroom. They set students up for long-term success and help businesses improve their public image, fostering future innovators for years to come.