Over the past decades, the Two Ten Footwear Foundation Scholarship Program has awarded millions of dollars to thousands of industry members and their families in need of financial assistance for higher education. Many of those recipients—often the first in their families to attend college—went on to complete their degrees and embark on productive careers in their chosen fields. In their cases, the scholarship program proved a resounding success. But what about the recipients who, for one reason or another, failed to complete their education? Could protocols have been put in place to provide financial and/or intellectual support that would have helped them finish school? After all, awarding scholarship funds is only half the battle. The real ROI comes from college diplomas.
Such is the premise guiding Two Ten Footwear Foundation President Neal Newman of late when it comes to scholarship efforts. The approach marks a sharp contrast to the organization’s past method. “Over the last couple of years, we’ve discovered that it has to be more than just raising money and providing scholarships,” Newman says. “We don’t want it to be just about giving a check. We are now viewing the scholarship program’s success as: Do they finish their degree?”
Before Newman’s arrival in 2012, Two Ten had never explored the reasons students dropped out. When they did, they found that one negative event often prompted a scholar to leave school. “It was usually one bad class, bad experience at home or bad problem at work that caused our students to stop going to school, especially those who were attending part-time,” Newman notes. “So, while we have to keep raising more money, on the other side of the ledger; we have to provide more personalized support and services to our applicants and scholars so that they remain in school.”
To help with that effort, Two Ten has enlisted childcare services provider Bright Horizons, purchasing its College Coach program, which provides advice to families on how to structure a financial plan. (The service is available to non-applicants as well.) It also offers personalized support for students trying to piece together work-study programs designed to make college affordable. “We’ll be using College Coach to run webinars for parents who are starting to explore the possibility of college for their children,” Newman says. “They might be parents of sophomores or juniors facing this financial morass for the first time, and this will assist them in developing a plan.” Newman adds that Liz Watson, scholarship program manager, will serve as Two Ten’s point person to develop relationships with award recipients, especially first-year students, to ensure that they are transitioning well to college. “College is a completely new environment, and many don’t have role models within their households, so we are going to connect them with mentors,” Newman explains. “Liz is on hand to support them through the first year.”
Two Ten’s efforts to help scholarship recipients stay in school are already paying strong dividends, Newman reports. This year, of the 300 who were awarded scholarships, 208 were renewals. That marks an increase from last year’s 168 renewals. Of course, it also means that competition for the remaining spots is tougher than ever. “Applicants are through the roof,” Newman says, noting that approximately 1,500 people started the application process, and of the 315 finalists, 92 were selected. “That is the largest number of applicants we’ve had since I arrived,” he says. “It’s becoming highly competitive to get a Two Ten scholarship.”
Two Ten makes every effort to choose those recipients whose need for financial assistance is most dire, Newman says. In fact, 70 percent of each award is weighted toward financial need, also known as Effective Family Contribution (EFC). The remainder is equally divided between academic performance and the narrative applicants write about what they aspire to achieve in life. “We’re trying to make sure that every applicant who reaches the final stage with a zero EFC score—meaning that the family can’t contribute a dollar to their tuition—earns a scholarship,” Newman says, noting that determination is based on the same financial metrics many colleges use. “We’ve achieved that goal the last couple of years,” he adds. Specifically, 40 percent of Two Ten’s scholarship recipients have a zero EFC rating and another 20 percent have EFCs of under $3,000. “That means 60 percent of our scholarship winners’ families were able to contribute $3,000 or less to their child’s tuition,” Newman says. “These are people who desperately need the financial support.”
The need for financial assistance is expected to increase in the coming years—just like the cost of tuition. It’s one of the reasons Two Ten is hoping to raise its annual award from $3,000 to $3,500 per student beginning next year. “If our scholarship budget grows to $1 million, we hope to be able to make that increase,” Newman reports. “While we’re probably never going to trend higher than the inflation increases to college costs, it’s a meaningful amount that we are comfortable giving,” he adds.
Newman credits Debbie Ferrée, chairwoman of Two Ten’s Education Committee and chief merchandising officer of DSW, for leading the charge to raise the program’s profile and number of contributions. The scholarship budget this year was $870,000, which represents a growth of $140,000 from 2013. “Debbie’s been quite keen to grow the profile of scholarships within Two Ten, and she’s done a brilliant job over the last couple of years,” Newman says. “Through her magnetism, a number of individuals have made financial contributions as well as intellectual ones.”
Ferrée, who once considered teaching as a profession, is passionate about education. “Statistically, it’s proven that a college degree results in higher employment rates and better compensation,” she says. But Ferrée is also acutely aware that the opportunity is becoming increasingly difficult because state and federal funding is not increasing at the same rate as tuition, so financial aid packages aren’t providing the support students need. This is especially true in shoe retailing, where, Ferrée notes, there are periodic struggles between lower sales and shortened hours. “Our community needs the opportunity to attain a degree,” she says. “The Two Ten Scholarship Program helps fill the gap that financial aid no longer covers, allowing our community to further their education. We are helping fellow shoepeople succeed in a world where a college degree is necessary.”
The effort to spread the word about Two Ten’s Scholarship Program includes a focus on independent retailers—many of which are small businesses and most vulnerable to the changing tides of the economy, according to Newman. Many of these employees are struggling to make ends meet and in need of financial assistance when it comes to higher education costs. It’s a key reason why Two Ten has once again partnered with Footwear Plus on sponsoring its Independent Retailer Scholarship Awards. “We think Footwear Plus is a wonderful conduit to let those retailers know that this scholarship opportunity is available to them,” Newman says. Progress has already been made. “Two years ago, two percent of our scholarship winners came from the independent tier. Now we’re at 10 percent, and I would like to see it churn up to 20 percent soon.” That goal, Newman adds, is a reflection of the tier’s 20 percent portion of overall industry sales.
Beyond that, Newman believes that for too long independent retailers have been underrepresented in Two Ten. “We want to make sure independent retailers know that Two Ten is as available to them as we are to the Wolverines of our world,” he says. “We are here to serve truck drivers, retail staffs, distribution center employees…you name it.” Similarly, this year’s four independent retailer scholarship recipients (see side bar) have been selected from across the country, reflecting a push by Newman to expand Two Ten beyond its Northeast roots.
“Two Ten supports the entire footwear industry,” Ferrée concurs. “Having an independent retailer partnership is a key way to provide our scholarship money to everyone in the industry, and knowing we were able to help four families in need is the reason why the program exists.”
Newman believes independent retailers are a good fit for the scholarship program because many of them are actually working in the industry and potentially in need of financial assistance. “They are most vulnerable to a potential loss of hours or a health issue and, before they know it, school books have to be bought, transportation costs must be met, and soon they are one paycheck away from having to drop out of school,” he explains. “These are the folks we really want to try and focus on.” So far, so good: 25 percent of the past three years’ scholarship recipients have been footwear industry employees.
Newman plans to expand additional special stakeholder scholarships as well. One is the Footwear Warriors scholarship for military veterans. “We’ve capitalized that fund at almost $500,000, and we want to increase it considerably because a large number of veterans have returned to footwear jobs from active service,” he says. There are up to five Footwear Warrior scholarship recipients annually and Newman hopes to double in the next couple of years. Similarly, he plans to expand design school–specific scholarships aimed at students attending traditional four-year programs like at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and Savannah College of Art and Design as well as shorter-length programs offered by Pensole Footwear Design Academy and Arsutoria School. Last but not least, Newman says Two Ten has created an emergency pop-up program—the Text Book Fund—designed to help recipients stay in school. “If something unexpected happens—say, a student’s car needs to go into the shop or they’ve lost their part-time job—we can give them up to $200 of additional funding that goes toward paying for books,” he says.
Two Ten’s commitment to helping members of the footwear industry stems from the belief that higher education benefits not just the individual and their family, but the footwear industry as a whole because it helps upgrade and retain talent. “We want to create a climate where folks consider footwear as a career and, with that, there are opportunities to go back to school and grow their educational profile,” Newman says. “It’s about planting a seed and encouraging higher education, both from individual and macro-industry levels. That strengthens everybody’s profile.”
Meet the 2016 Two TenFootwear Foundation/Footwear Plus Independent Retailer Scholarship recipients.
Victoria McFarland, 18, Lakeland, FL
Attends: University of Central Florida
Victoria McFarland, who aims to become a physician’s assistant after completing her undergraduate and graduate studies, is honored to be a Two Ten/Footwear Plus scholarship recipient. Her family—third generation independent shoe retailers— own and operate McFarland’s Shoe Repair in Lakeland, FL.
“My parents are self-employed and, as the child of small business owners, this scholarship will be a huge help to my family,” McFarland says. She credits watching her parents’ dedication to keeping the business thriving as having prepared her well for college and beyond. “My parents’ example has shown me that no matter what I am going through to always strive to be the best at whatever I do in life,” she says.
Case in point: In 2004, her hometown was hit by three storms wielding hurricane-force winds. One of the storms caused a tree to crash through the roof of the family’s home, also causing part of the shopping center that was home to McFarland’s Shoe Repair to fall into a sinkhole. “Our store was closed for a couple of weeks,” McFarland recalls. “The loss of income and the expense of home repairs put a huge strain on our family’s finances.” But the footwear industry rallied to help. “Soon after, my father started receiving checks from people all over the country,” she says. “We were so thankful to the shoe repair community who had heard of our situation and banded together to help!”
Likewise, McFarland is thankful of the support of Two Ten in helping her earn her degree and pursue her career dreams. “This would not be possible without the generous support from scholarship sponsors like Two Ten,” she says. “Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity!”
Elizabeth Ardovino, 21,Hoover, AL
Attends: University of Alabama at Birmingham
Major: Healthcare Administration
Once Elizabeth Ardovino completes her bachelor’s degree in Healthcare Management, she plans to immediately start working in the field. “I am very excited about the path I have chosen,” she says. “Healthcare management is advancing more rapidly than almost any field, and there are so many different settings one can choose with this major.”
Ardovino’s plan is to start working in either marketing and public affairs, medical staff relations or material management. “I hope to gain a great amount of experience in these areas and then go back to UAB to receive my Master’s degree, hopefully advancing to higher positions in physician’s practices or healthcare associations,” she says.
Ardovino, whose father works for Upsidedown Shoe Repair in Homewood, AL, is grateful to Two Ten for the assistance it is providing her toward completing her degree. “Being in the footwear community has impacted my life in many ways,” she says. “Growing up, I have watched my father and how dedicated he is to his job. It has inspired me to be just as dedicated in my work.”
Casey Ells, 19, Spofford, NH
Attends: NHTI-Concord’s Community College
Major: Dental Hygienist
Casey Ells is already a seasoned veteran of the footwear industry, having gotten her start during her freshman year of high school in her hometown’s Howard’s Leather Store. The first day on the job she admits to being terrified. “I had never had a job before, and I was younger than the other employees by a few years,” she recalls. “I got a tour from the owner and became even more nervous, knowing there were so many things to memorize—which jackets run a little larger, which shoes are better for people with foot problems—the list went on and on.”
Ells eventually overcame her fear of being asked a question by a customer that she didn’t know the answer to by putting to memory many footwear specifics. Equally important, she learned that it was ok not to be an expert on everything and ask questions to find the answers. “I learned to love my job,” Ells says. “I looked forward to coming in and interacting with customers, as well as answering the questions which used to cause me stress.”
Ells shoe store experience also sparked her desire to work in a field that involves interaction with lots of people and making them happy. Thus her decision to become a dental hygienist that makes people feel good about smiling. “Knowing what I want to do with my life made planning for my future so much easier,” she says. “I know this thanks to being a member of the footwear community.”
Kaylee Croft, 19, Houston, TX
Attends: University of Kansas
Kaylee Croft, who plans to enter the pharmaceuticals profession after graduation, is another shoe industry veteran. She grew up in the business, pitching in when needed at her parents’ For Your Toes & Feet business, a two-store comfort specialty operation.
“I worked with my parents many times when extra help was needed in their store,” she says. “I was able to learn how to interact with customers, how to deal with vendors and how to manage a business.”
Croft believes having been able to learn these skills at such a young age will definitely prepare her for her future career in the pharmaceuticals field. “It has provided me with excellent general life skills, too,” she says.