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Kauffman Scholars: Celebrate the significant impact of 20 years of support and learning

With more than 800 Scholars who earned college degrees, Kauffman Scholars, Inc., began its planned six-month phased closing March 13.

The Kauffman Scholars, Inc., (KSI) post-secondary scholarship program began its official six-month phased closing March 13, 20 years to the day after launching the initiative that offered college scholarships, academic tutoring, and mentoring to students starting in 7th grade. More than 800 scholars from Kansas City schools earned college degrees with extensive support from the program staff and collaborating partners. 

At its conclusion, KSI will include eight classes of graduates in their 20s and early 30s who impact the Kansas City area as active members of their communities and of the regional workforce. Seventy-five percent of the most recent graduation cohort reside in the Kansas City metropolitan area and reported a positive career outcome within six months of post-secondary completion.

We are focusing on the promise and possibilities that our scholars represent. They are our legacy, and their presence in the Kansas City workforce and community reflects their personal accomplishments.

— Tanesha Ford
Executive Director, Kauffman Scholars, Inc.

Tanesha Ford, executive director, Kauffman Scholars, Inc., said the emphasis throughout the planned program conclusion will remain focused on scholars. “Just like we’ve tried to do for the entire program, we are focusing on the promise and possibilities that our scholars represent,” Ford said. “They are our legacy, and their presence in the Kansas City workforce and community reflects their personal accomplishments. We’re happy to be celebrating who they have become.”

A focus on Scholars, not just scholarships

KSI was originally funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in 2003, receiving $140 million during the span of two decades to increase college access and success to ensure equitable opportunities for students in Kansas City. Students and their families received extensive support from program leaders and coaches along with collegiate, community, and corporate partners throughout their years in the program.

“I was able to obtain my education and degree with the help of Kauffman Scholars and their vision to help students academically, financially and in life,” said Sang Lau, program alum. “I’m thankful for everything Kauffman Scholars did to help students, like myself, obtain an education and mold us to become better students and people.”

Originally, selected students came from economically challenged households within the boundaries of the Kansas City, Kansas, or Kansas City, Missouri, public school districts. Through the life of the program, KSI staff responded to the changing needs of scholars, adapting the program to provide wrap-around services that supported scholars in more than just academic areas. With assigned one-on-one coaches and a long list of community partners, KSI guided scholars and their families through barriers of life that often derail students.

“We quickly learned that the cost of tuition is not the largest barrier to a scholar’s success. Life is the largest barrier,” said Ford. “We were constantly shaped by the opportunities and challenges our scholars shared with us. This helped us constantly innovate and grow with our scholars.”

As the final class of Kauffman Scholars approaches graduation, the staff wraps up two decades of program learning and building relationships with scholars, family members, educators, coaches, service providers, and employers. During the lifetime of the program, KSI boasts a nearly 60% graduation completion rate for its students, often attributed to both the extra services and the relationships nurtured through nearly 10 years of connection between a scholar, their family, and the program staff.

KSI has its roots in the Project Choice program originally started by Ewing Marion Kauffman in 1988. The lessons learned by KSI have helped to inform the development and launch of the new programs that support educational access and workforce development in the Kansas City region.

While several events are planned for the final months of the Kauffman Scholars program, staff will continue to emphasize scholar support throughout the planned program conclusion. The last graduating class will conclude in June 2023, and a final program celebration is scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of Ewing Kauffman’s birthday in September 2023.