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The COVID-19 crisis threatens to put higher education dreams in jeopardy for many aspiring college students, with the unemployment rate more than doubled and state budgets threatening the future of public universities.

“After years of declines in state funding driving greater student debt, the recent leveling out of student debt shows the value of investments in higher education,” notes Debbie Cochrane, executive vice president of to The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS). “However, neither state investment nor student debt levels have recovered from the Great Recession, and the COVID-19 pandemic risks putting any progress in jeopardy. Students and families are looking to federal and state policymakers to do the hard work needed to prevent student debts from rising quickly again.”

More than six in ten college seniors who graduated from public and private nonprofit colleges in 2019 had student loan debt and owed an average of $28,950, according to TICAS.

To ease some of the financial burden for PEF families, the union, along with some of its individual divisions and regions, offers scholarships to members, retirees, and their families.

PEF scholarships

The Joseph Scacalossi scholarship program is merit-based and open only to dependents of PEF members and PEF retirees. Applicants must be high school seniors or college freshmen.

Through the program, named after Scacalossi, a leader in organizing PEF and Division 245 at the state Labor Department in New York City, 10 students are awarded $1,000 annually for up to four years.

The preliminary application is due March 19, 2021. It can be accessed online here. Upon verification, a final application will be mailed to students, which is due back April 30, 2021.

Scholarships are sometimes offered by individual PEF regions and divisions. Contact your regional office or your council leader for information about divisional and/or regional scholarships and deadlines for applying.

Click here for PEF regional office contact information.

Union Plus

If you participate in any Union Plus program, you are eligible to apply for a Union Plus scholarship.

PEF families are eligible through PEF’s parent unions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). PEF is Local 4053 of both AFT and SEIU.

Union members, their spouses and dependent children who apply must be accepted into an accredited college or university, community college, or recognized technical or trade school at the time the award is issued.

Since 1991, the Union Plus Scholarship Program has awarded more than $4.8 million to students from working families. More than 3,200 families have benefited from the scholarships.

Offered through the Union Plus Education Foundation, these competitive scholarships look at applicants’ academic record, social awareness, financial need and appreciation of labor, according to the website. A GPA of 3.0 or higher is recommended and required essays can account for up to half of a student’s total score.

Applications are due by January 31, 2021.

Awards range from $500 to $4,000 for study beginning in the fall of 2021. They are one-time cash awards and students may reapply each year.

Winners will be notified by mail around May 31, 2021. See a list of last year’s winners here.