College is a heavy thought for a sixth-grader, but for parents, addressing higher education is something that should be done early as possible. Ask Peter Geiger why.

Geiger is evolving his educational philanthropy with the Montello Scholarship Fund, which he announced, clad in his trademark tuxedo, during the Night of the Stars at Montello School earlier this month.

Night of the Stars has touches of glitz and glamour, with its limousines and glittering attire, but there was nothing showy about Geiger’s promise. He pledged $100,000 for scholarships, plus $25,000 to match other grants.

The plan is, by 2014, to have $150,000 available for the current crop of Montello students to attend college. In announcing the proposal, the audience of school faculty, pupils and students gave him rousing applause.

Geiger deserves it from many more.

In debate about fostering higher education, the same phrase appears: attainability. The word has multiple meanings, but they all balance on one important factor: whether a student has the fiscal means for college.

For 20 years, Geiger has used “If you can dream it, you can achieve it” to motivate students to increase their educational aspirations, and push them toward attending college.

Now, Geiger is bringing this goal closer to them through these scholarships. This signals a shift in his philosophy, which has centered upon enhancing student aspirations. That is only half of the college solution.

The other half is putting the expense of higher education into reach of Maine families.

This is Geiger’s goal, along with another initiative from another noted Maine philanthropist, Harold Alfond, whose foundation has pledged $500 in college money for every child born in the state, starting in 2009.

These efforts couldn’t come at a better time.

Maine’s most affordable option for higher education, the community college system, in late April raised its tuition by 2.5 percent to cover $1.1 million in lost funding and energy cost overruns. For full-time students, tuition is now around $2,500 per year.

University of Maine System trustees will open a two-day meeting Sunday to set tuition rates and campus fees for the next academic year, with increases almost certain. In the future, costs of education will surely escalate.

And regardless of grades or testing scores, securing funding is the critical determining factor of attending college, a process which promises to grow more difficult with rising expenses and toughening credit requirements.

This means starting college preparation early. No, this shouldn’t entail having parents grill their sixth-graders with SAT questions, or hold mandatory application essay writing practice over the weekend. Kids should still be kids.

For parents, it’s never too early to start thinking about paying for college.

But this is easy to say.

Geiger’s generous gift to Montello, however, should make this easier to do.


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