Guest Commentary

Community gives students a hand with KC Scholars

In this photo from last May, Kenyan Childress (left), 14, listens to Beth Tankersley-Bankhead, executive director of KC Scholars, (center) about his college scholarship as his mother, Chaquita Weston, watches.
In this photo from last May, Kenyan Childress (left), 14, listens to Beth Tankersley-Bankhead, executive director of KC Scholars, (center) about his college scholarship as his mother, Chaquita Weston, watches. File photo

By 2020, two out of three jobs will require more than a high school diploma. In Kansas City, there aren’t nearly enough high school graduates entering college and completing their degree to keep up with this job demand.

Since KC Scholars launched on Sept. 28, 2016, it has served as an example of how community members came together to address the problem that too few low- and modest-income and minority students have access to and earn a college degree. As it turns one year old, KC Scholars is making progress toward its stated goals — providing life-changing opportunity for a college education to thousands while increasing our region’s postsecondary attainment rates, growing the workforce pipeline, and subsequently improving the economy.

Incubated at the Kauffman Foundation and with support from hundreds of agencies, community members, and academic and professional volunteers, KC Scholars was developed to increase postsecondary attainment in Kansas and Missouri, specifically serving Wyandotte and Johnson counties in Kansas and Cass, Clay, Jackson, and Platte counties in Missouri.

KC Scholars provides scholarships, financial incentives to promote college savings and support services to low- and modest-income students and adults to complete a college education. Ultimately, the program provides the opportunity for Kansas City students and adult learners to remain in the region, complete college and one day contribute to the local workforce and economy. And it does so in transformational ways.

In May 2017, having launched just nine months prior, the first award cycle took place, granting scholarships to 635 ninth graders, 11th graders, and adults with some college but no degree. Scholarships will be awarded annually during a January-March application cycle.

Within this first group of scholarship recipients, 75 percent will be the first in their family to complete college, and 76 percent are people of color. In addition, every awardee is considered low- or modest-income.

Recipients will be able to use their scholarships at one of 17 colleges and universities, most of which are in the Kansas City region. There are already several adult learners putting their scholarships to work, two of whom will graduate this coming December.

KC Scholars is an example of how a community can come together to send students to college and create a return on investment for our region, but it takes continued community support for a program like this to thrive.

Just as this community came together to create and launch KC Scholars, we urge the community to visit kcscholars.org to learn more about the program. And you can help celebrate KC Scholars’ first birthday by spreading the word and encouraging an eligible applicant to apply in 2018.

Once fully scaled, KC Scholars will have 2,000 students in the program each year. However, for this community-driven initiative to continue forever, it falls on us — all of us — to get involved.

Beth Tankersley-Bankhead is executive director of KC Scholars.

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