Not Too Good To Be True: How Your Student Can Earn Up to $520,000 for Tuition

Not Too Good To Be True: How Your Student Can Earn Up to $520,000 for Tuition


Disclaimer: You might think this is too good to be true. But we kid you not.

There is an organization out there that will literally pay for students’ tuition to private education for high school, college, and yes, graduate school--something that could amount to $500,000 per student. It’s called the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. Yes, the students are exceptional--and they have deep needs. But there are already 1,900 Jack Kent Cooke recipients out there, and 200 more selected every year. All together, Cooke scholars have so far received more than $130 million--that’s an average of more than $68,000 per student. Here’s what you need to know to get your students a piece of this pie.

The Jack Kent Cooke story began in Ontario, Canada, in 1912. Cooke never went to collegel. During the Depression he sold encyclopedias door-to-door. He built a media empire that included newspapers and television stations, and even wound up owning New York City’s Chrysler Building, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Washington Redskins. He became a complex and controversial man.

Still, recognizing the difficulty of making life strides without support or a good education, Cook always “knew he was going to leave the majority of his money to this foundation,” reports Heather Reams, Director of Program Outreach and Communications. When he passed away in 1997, Cooke left $700 million of his fortune to the foundation. This became the cornerstone of the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship program.

Reams reports that the program aims to “to help low-income kids get as much as they can,” and “to plug educators and resources into this process,” themes that resonate with Executive Director Harold Levy. (Levy served as chancellor of the New York City public schools from 2000 to 2002.)

“Cooke Scholars are as talented as Rhodes Scholars but have also overcome the burden of financial need. These kids are simply amazing,” Levy says. The program began funding scholarships in 2001. “Not only do they have the same intellectual ability as those other award winners, but they’ve taken on the burden of poverty and overcome it. They haven’t had test prep or summers at Bogota.”

The scholarship program has three parts. Here’s how it works:

Money and counseling for high school...

Low-income students in 7th grade are eligible to apply for the “Young Scholars Program,” which provides scholars with partial private school tuition and allows them to attend some of the most prestigious schools in the country, including Andover and Phillip Exeter. “We help them identify a challenging high school, assist them with financial aid, get them into a private school and create an individualized learning plan to help them grow,” Reams says.

There are 65 seventh graders selected each year, often from pools of more than 1,500 applications. Once scholars are accepted into the program, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation (or JKCF for short) has 14 on-staff advisors who help prepare scholars prepared for college by, say, helping them create a competitive application, and more.

“The best part is that JKCF is not only concerned about our schooling but our development as people and community leaders,” says college student and Cooke scholar, Yasmine Arrington. “The summer of my junior year of high school the foundation funded me to study abroad in Costa Rica for six weeks.”

In a sense, the foundation functions much like other wraparound programs, such as the Harlem Village Academies. Scholar advisors work with families, showing them how best to support their student. To remain in the program, students must perform academically (mostly A’s and B’s), and students’ families must continue to be responsive to guidance from advisors.

“We're taking away barriers to entry for potential,” Reams explains. “Very rarely is anyone removed from the program.”

For college…

The support doesn’t stop have to stop there. Following high school, JKCF funds its students up to $40,000 per year for four years of college--funding that could total up to $160K. And if students didn’t make it into the Young Scholars Program back in seventh grade? JKCF opens up an additional 40 spots to high schoolers for this College Scholarship Program, with the same incentives.

In addition, its widely popular Undergraduate Transfer program (which claims to be the “largest private scholarship in the nation for community college switchers”) annually offers two-year college and community college students $40,000 for up to three years to be applied towards a bachelor’s degree at a four-year university. Cohorts of 85 students are selected each year from more than 3,000 applicants. The Undergraduate Transfer program is competitive; Reams reports that students need to have 3.9 or above GPA’s.

...and for graduate school

Time for the cherry on top of this already sweet cake. All scholars--whether having been with the program since seventh grade or coming in from community college--are eligible to receive funding of up to $50,000 a year for graduate studies, up to four years. (Has this put you on the floor yet? We’re there.)

“What the foundation is doing is making a bet, and the bet is that we can find exceptional kids that can grow into exceptional adults. All we need to do is stick with them, and they’ll blossom,” Levy tells EdSurge.

Want your students to be a part of it?

At the end of these years and years of support, the reality is that the JKFC program isn’t just about money. It’s about building a community and giving well-deserving kids opportunities that they otherwise might not have. Every year, the foundation brings its scholars together to celebrate and engage with one another. “We know that these are students who are likely to be solo in their community, and we want them to develop a peer community among these students,” Reams smiles. “They call each other ‘cousins.’”

The Young Scholars Program will begin accepting applications next week and will do so through the end of April. Applications for the College Scholarship and Undergraduate Transfer programs open in the fall. For more information on Young Scholars, watch a recording of the informational webinar, or join in on one of two Young Scholars Program Twitter Chats in February.

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