KC Scholars: A Model Program Developed from Best Practices

May 23, 2018

By Colette Hadley, Director of Consulting Services 

The students involved in the KC Scholars (KCS) program are not the only ones breaking records and reaching milestones: The nonprofit agency itself is doing that, too. Just two years ago, KCS implemented what was arguably the fastest start-up of any large regional scholarship and student support organization in the nation, going from incubation to launch in only 12 months. 

In addition, the NCAN member has a strong financial base, providing rare high-dollar awards with scholarships worth up to $10,000 annually for a maximum of five years. And KCS is uniquely designed to help advise, guide and support three types of learners: 9th-grade students, rising high school seniors, and re-entry adults pursuing higher education. Most likely, no other large-scale strategic scholarship program has started so quickly with such a broad and high-impact mandate. 

A laser focus on ensuring that hundreds of low- and modest-income students finance and complete a college degree is the driving force behind KCS. Seventy-three percent of the May 2018 scholarship recipients are first-generation college students, and recipients come from 81 high schools across the six-county Kansas City region (Wyandotte and Johnson counties in Kansas, and Cass, Clay, Jackson, and Platte counties in Missouri). This year, 83 percent of the scholars had an Expected Family Contribution at or below $4,000. 

NCAN is proud to have provided consulting services for this ground-breaking project. In the words of Dr. Beth Tankersley-Bankhead, director of postsecondary initiatives for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, "NCAN brought to our process a deep knowledge of successful programs and effective practices nationwide, unparalleled expertise in the college access and success space, organizational and implementation experience and expertise, and a high level of professionalism. NCAN was integral to the development of KC Scholars."

KCS was created in response to a strategic decision by the Kauffman Foundation, a long-time funder of various postsecondary attainment efforts. Fostering KCS was a bold move by this private foundation to move into the public space and incubate a new, exciting program with community members engaged at every level. Kansas City citizens enthusiastically joined in the effort to plan, grow, and implement KCS, with the goal of transforming thousands of lives through the college-degree and credential completion.

To carry out the daunting workload of designing a new scholarship and student supports initiative, leaders at the Kauffman Foundation engaged NCAN’s consulting services as a critical partner in development. NCAN consultants came on early in the initial planning phase and worked closely with Tankersley-Bankhead until the program officially launched. 

At the beginning of the KCS project, the Kauffman Foundation and NCAN laid the groundwork by examining best practices and research from around the nation. The goal was to determine what strategies, practices, and tactics would be the best fit and most successful for Kansas City students. A few preliminary guidelines emerged from this best-practices blueprint.

Next, Tankersley-Bankhead and NCAN put together a structure to involve more than 70 community members, who served on five work groups and committees, each with specific charges: the Funders Advisory Committee, Resource Development Workgroup, Outreach and Marketing Workgroup, Selection Criteria Workgroup, and Steering Committee. Through this collaborative process, community members worked collectively to create KCS with guidance from the professional staff and consultants. 

At each stage of development, community members voiced opinions, asked questions, and made decisions regarding a diverse set of issues such as scholarship application selection criteria, awarding scholarships, approaching fundraising and partner collaborations, methods and tools for reaching Kansas City citizens who might be eligible for scholarships, strategies for providing college preparation and access services to high school youth, involving local colleges and universities in support strategies for scholarship recipients, and even appropriate program names and logos. 

After almost a year of fast-paced work, in September 2016 KC Scholars launched as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit agency serving six counties in the KC metro area. Its inclusive nature means that eligible applicants include students who attend public, private, or charter schools, or are homeschooled. 

There are three unique components to KCS: a 529 College Savings Account seeding and match and incentive program for 9th-graders (with college advisement support throughout high school), a traditional scholarship of up to $10,000 per year for up to five years for students selected as high school juniors, and an adult learner scholarship for those 24 and older with some college units but no degree.

NCAN’s team of consultants was pleased to help craft a process and build a program that was customized each step of the way for Kansas City. 

“We developed the program working in tandem with 70-plus community members, and the NCAN consultants understood why this community engagement was critical and worked very well with our community," Tankersley-Bankhead said at the project's conclusion. "NCAN works with you in a way that facilitates thoughtful and strategic decision-making. KC Scholars has remained closely connected to NCAN’s consultants and treasure them as great thought partners. They not only help with a process or project but follow up afterward. I have the highest regard for the NCAN consultants and strongly recommend them, as they will definitely enhance any process.” 

For more information about how NCAN might consult with your foundation or nonprofit on assessment and recommendations for new or existing scholarship programs, please contact NCAN Director of Consulting Services Colette Hadley at hadley@collegeaccess.org.

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