Education

When it came time for Anna Brashear to finish high school, college seemed out of reach.

Financially, Brashear couldn’t swing it. And she said her family wasn’t in position to help either.

She though about other options. Maybe the Marine Corps, perhaps a tattoo shop apprenticeship?

Brashear two years ago caught wind of a University of Louisville program that pays for poor students to go to school.

The Cardinal Covenant program, since 2007, has helped 180 students from families graduate from college. Each lived at or well below the federal poverty line.

Brashear applied, spent months working on her application.

And then, she got denied. Her only chance at college came months later when a Covenant Program student dropped out, making room for Brashear.

The Covenant Program on Thursday received a $2 million donation, the largest ever in the history of the program.

Robert and Joyce Hughes, U of L medical school alums, gave $1.5 million. School President James Ramsey said the university will use a $500,000 unrestricted gift from Owsley Brown Frazier to match the Hughes’ donation.

The gift will allow the Covenant Program to accept about 13 more students every year, much like Brashear, a U of L sophomore studying anthropology and Spanish.

“I’m really interested in helping people who are in bad situations that I can empathize with,” she said.

Brashear, who the university made available for comment, said the donation “means a lot” to the program and students who need help to pay for school.

As a first generation college student, Brashear said she is taking a step towards breaking the “cycle of poverty” that grips families across the state.

About 17 percent of first-year college students in the United States are -generation college students, according to a 2014 study by the University of North Carolina.

The same study shows that these students are the least likely among college students to complete their degree. They are also more likely to see college as an opportunity for upward mobility.

Robert Hughes, one half of the couple behind the recent donation, is also chairman of the U of L board of trustees and chairman of the U of L Foundation.

He said the best way to climb up the social and financial ladder is “though education.”

“I don’t know of any greater return that you’ll see for society’s benefits than investing in a university,” he said.

Currently, 278 U of L students receive funding from the program, which includes mentoring and academic support services, according to a news release.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.