South Florida is hot.
Not only does the lower half of the state boast the only tropical climate in the continental U.S., it’s also a magnet to the LGBT community. And the more educated they are, the bigger the dollar signs they bring to the region, underscoring the importance of financial aid for LGBT students.
Now, let’s examine some of the facts supporting the need to make education affordable for the LGBT community:
- Population: In 2004, Florida had the fourth highest concentration of same-sex couples in the United States, according to The Gay and Lesbian Atlas, published by the Urban Institute. Narrowed down by city, most of those couples hailed from South Florida, particularly the Fort Lauderdale metro area, Wilton Manors, Miami Shores and Key West.
- Education: More recently, the Williams Institute, a UCLA think tank specializing in LGBT issues, reported that both single and coupled LGB individuals aged 25 and older were more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to have a college degree. This is more pronounced among married individuals than singles, though both groups surpass the educational attainment of their heterosexual peers.
- Income: In 2011, same-sex couples with both partners in the labor force earned an annual household income of $94,000 compared with $86,000 for heterosexual couples. And the researchers responsible for the study assert that the higher level of education among same-sex couples strongly contributes to their higher incomes.
How do these numbers translate in the context of South Florida’s economy? Consider this: In August 2013, the Economic Policy Institute reported that states have the potential to prosper immensely by investing in quality education for their residents. “There is a clear and strong correlation between the educational attainment of a state’s workforce and median wages in the state,” a finding that echoes Bureau of Labor Statistics figures proving higher education is a worthy investment.
But college degrees aren’t cheap.
Fortunately, funding options by way of special types of aid are available to LGBT students. In the absence of any meaningful government intervention, here’s advice on how cash-strapped LGBT students can find some of the resources they need to achieve their educational goals:
- Contact Your LGBT Resource Center: Find out if the university or college where you’re enrolled in or plan to attend has an LGBT resource center. Besides offering a safe and positive environment on campus, these centers often stay abreast of university, local, state or national scholarships targeted at LGBT students. They can provide information about the incentives, eligibility requirements, application procedures and deadlines. If a center’s website doesn’t display such information, ask to be added to the center’s listserv, so you can receive email announcements of LGBT-specific scholarships as they become available.
At a couple of South Florida-area universities, the following scholarships are awarded to enrolled LGBT students:
- University of South Florida: USF Alumni Association LGBT Scholarship
- University of Miami: The Lawrence R. Hyer/Edward Pascoe Study Abroad Scholarship (preference given to gay- and lesbian-identifying students) and LGBTQ Minor Scholarship (reflects a past deadline; contact the university regarding updates)
- Join a GSA or GLYS: Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) focus primarily on promoting tolerance and safety of LGBT students in public and private schools. Regional Gay & Lesbian Youth Services (GLYS) organizations also provide support and advocacy to LGBT youth and their families, though these programs are not as pervasive as GSAs. But both GSAs and GLYSs often are connected with other LGBT organizations in your area that either supply information about student aid or directly provide the incentives. In addition, some scholarship providers require students to actively participate in such programs or demonstrate leadership in their local LGBT communities to qualify for their awards. South Florida has a GSA.
- Seek Guidance for FAFSA: Transgender students who legally change their names to reflect their gender face unique hurdles when they complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The application requires the student’s name to match the full legal name on his or her Social Security card and sex to match official records. Present a discrepancy, FAFSA will reject the application. Students in such situations should explain their circumstances to and seek advice from their campus financial aid adviser or with the Transgender Law Center. Until recently, the application also failed to recognize family structures of LGBT people. But new and more favorable rules apply beginning with the 2014 to 2015 financial aid year.
- Cast a Wide Net During Your Search: Don’t limit your research to groups and programs at your school or in your locality. Although these are excellent sources, they likely won’t be aware of every educational incentive that’s available. Online, there’s no shortage of resources when it comes to LGBT-specific financial aid. Visit the following websites to learn about the variety of scholarships, grants and fellowships for LGBT students pursuing higher education:
- Point Foundation
- Human Rights Campaign
- Campus Pride
- Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays
- LEAGUE Foundation
- College Scholarships
- Student Debt Relief
These organizations provide information about financial aid to specific groups of LGBT students:
- Queer Foundation (for high school students)
- Gamma Mu Foundation (for gay male students)
- Pride Foundation (for students in Northwestern states)
Richie Bernardo is a reporter for the personal finance websites CardHub and WalletHub.