Education

The James Graham Brown Foundation is making a $3 million gift to the Louisville education nonprofit Evolve502 to help low-income JCPS graduates pay for living expenses while they pursue higher education.

Marland Cole, Evolve502’s executive director, said during a press conference Monday at Iroquois High School it’s the largest donation the organization has received. 

“[It] will ensure that our students with most need will have equitable access to higher education, receiving the financial support they need to be successful,” she said.

Evolve502 partners with JCPS, donors and Louisville Metro to provide “last-dollar scholarships” to graduating seniors of all incomes to attend any Kentucky Community and Technical College school or Simmons College of Kentucky for six semesters or 60 credit hours. The organization helps students apply for state and federal financial aid, then covers whatever tuition costs remain — the “last-dollar” expenses. 

The organization said it has raised $14.85 million so far, which is enough to cover last-dollar costs for most current JCPS high school students. 

The new gift from the James Graham Brown Foundation will provide “Opportunity Grants” for low-income students to cover expenses outside of tuition, such as books, housing, transportation or a family emergency. The grants are for $1,000 a semester, or $2,000 a year.

“All too often, life gets in the way for some of us, causing us to put education off for a bit because of a lack of financial resources that many of us take for granted,” James Graham Brown Foundation president Mason Rummel said.

The grants are for students whose household income is less than $40,000 a year.

Some research shows last-dollar scholarship programs alone have not been successful at helping low-income students afford college, precisely because they do not cover non-tuition expenses.

Evolve502 said around 850 seniors in the Class of 2021 have applied for the last-dollar scholarships to date. Iroquois High School principal Rob Fulk said 30% of the schools’ graduating seniors have applied.

According to Evolve502, seniors are eligible if they are graduating or have received a GED, and have been a JCPS student since at least the ninth grade. However, the organization said all students should still apply because it may still work with students who do not meet these eligibility requirements.

The organization does not provide scholarships to students who are undocumented immigrants.

“That’s one of the gaps in the program today,” Evolve502 chief scholarships officer Matt Berry said. 

Since undocumented students are not eligible for most state and federal aid, the last-dollar costs for undocumented students are “much, much higher” for Evolve502 to cover, he said.

Iroquois High School senior Carla Garcia said she applied for the Evolve502 scholarship and plans to use the funds to attend Jefferson Community and Technical College to study education, with the goal of becoming a teacher.

“It’s less stressful and easier for me and my family to go to college with the scholarship,” she said. Garcia immigrated to Louisville from Guatemala three years ago. She said she’ll be the first in her family to attend college.

“To go to college will be a big dream for me, and for them,” she said.

Evolve502’s goal is to raise $50 million, an amount they said would allow them to provide last-dollar scholarships to all current JCPS students K-12, once they graduate.

To apply for the grants and for tuition scholarships, JCPS graduating seniors can visit Evolve502.org/scholarship. The deadline for the class of 2021 is June 30.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.