Skin in the game. An expression that was being used so often that William Safire devoted a 2006 New York Times “On Language” column to “fleshing” out its meaning and origins. He begins with the questions of exactly whose skin is it and what’s the game.

“The skin in this case is a synecdoche for the self, much as “head” stands for cattle and “sail” for ships. The game is the investment, commitment or gamble being undertaken.”

A college education is a gamble, the returns of which are far from certain. It’s a gamble undertaken by many – not only the prospective college student but also those who financially contribute to the undertaking, and the communities that might benefit from it.

In many ways it’s a very different “game” than it was when the Daly scholarship was first awarded in 1922, a time when most of the state colleges didn’t charge tuition, only modest fees. The challenge then was to convince people stay in school and go on to college. In the 1920s, only 20 percent graduated from high school and very few of the graduates went on to college. In those years, the Daly Scholarship was extraordinary. It provided full funding for at least 15 Lake County students each year – that was pretty much everyone who wanted to go to college.

The situation changed in the 1930s when the effects of the Great Depression set in. It was a perfect storm of events – smaller amounts of scholarship funds were available; more students were graduating from high school, wanting to go to college; and colleges were increasing tuition. It took some time but eventually the Daly Fund trustees found that awarding a third of the total estimated college costs (tuition, fees, room and board) was about right. 

It’s a stretch but, even with skyrocketing tuition costs, Daly scholarship recipients have been able to make up the difference through a combination of careful money management and part-time work. As a result, most of the scholarship recipients graduated in four years with no or little debt. And, it’s not just a financial stretch, the scholarship also promotes an academic stretch. Beginning as early as elementary school, Lake County kids begin preparing for college, knowing that they are likely to receive the Daly Scholarship or one of the several other available scholarships. Even with the scholarship and stretch, it’s still not a sure thing so, just to be sure, it’s become a tradition for Lakeview High School students to rub the now-shiny nose on the bronze bust of Bernard Daly in the high school lobby. There’s skin in the game and it does make a difference.

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