Education

Eighth grade students in Jefferson County Public Schools can get an associates degree tuition-free once they graduate, thanks to $8 million in new funding raised by the education nonprofit Evolve502. 

Evolve502 provides what are known as “last-dollar scholarships” for students who want to attend a Kentucky community college or Simmons College of Kentucky. Evolve502 looks at what students can get through state and federal financial aid, and then covers the rest. 

The group will cover costs for up to six semesters, the completion of an associate degree, or 60 credit hours—whichever comes first. Students who come from households making less than $40,000 a year are eligible for additional grants of $1,000 a semester to cover non-tuition costs like housing or books. And some low-income students can continue on to the University of Louisville tuition-free to complete their bachelors’ degree.

Last year Evolve502 had enough to cover costs for nearly all current JCPS high school students upon graduation. Now they have enough to extend the offer down to current eighth graders. 

“As these students plan for high school…they already know that college will be possible,” Evolve502 Executive Director Marland Cole told reporters at a Wednesday press conference.

The new investment includes $3 million dollars from Louisville Metro Government and $5 million from the C.E. and S. Foundation, a local grant-making organization. Other recent contributors include the James Graham Brown Foundation and the Louisville Urban League.

Evolve502 says its goal is to raise $50 million—enough money to send all future classes of graduating seniors to college tuition free for an associates degree. New investments put current funding at around $21 million.

To be eligible for the scholarships, students must have been enrolled in JCPS since at least the ninth grade, graduate or earn a G.E.D., and be a Kentucky resident. 

However, the group says students who don’t meet those criteria should apply anyway, since they may be able to work with them.

Students also need to fill out a FAFSA, or free application for federal student aid. You can find that here. 

More information on the Evolve502 scholarship is here, and graduating seniors can apply here.

Last year, Cole said, around 1,400 graduating seniors applied for the scholarships, and 600 ended up accepting and using the funds for their degree. Cole said she believes many of those who did not use the scholarships had other opportunities, such as going straight into a four-year bachelor’s program.

Cole said, so far, 600 members of the class of 2022 have applied.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.