Our Organization's History

Ewing Kauffman believed education was the key to success in life, a one-way ticket out of poverty. He recognized that higher education helps to pave the way for young adults to obtain good-paying jobs with benefits. Mr. Kauffman recognized, however, that low-income urban students often do not have the skills or opportunity to pursue a college education. He wanted to help more young people achieve that goal.

Following Mr. Kauffman’s vision, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in 2003 launched Kauffman Scholars Inc. The comprehensive academic enrichment and mentoring program helps Kansas City’s urban students maximize their potential and prepare for a successful future. The $170 million and 19 years invested in this college access and scholarship program represent the largest and longest-term commitment in Foundation history.

Today’s program grew out of seeds planted by Mr. Kauffman himself twenty-five years earlier. Those seeds grew into Project Choice.

The year was 1988. Mr. Kauffman wanted to reduce the dropout rate among Kansas City’s urban high school students. He believed that if he offered these students a choice for a better future, they would do whatever it took to finish high school. Project Choice was born and, through it, nearly 1,400 “at risk” students were offered the chance for a fully paid college education if they graduated on time, avoided drugs and pregnancy, and otherwise stayed out of trouble.

Project Choice concluded in 2001 with the college graduation of its final class of students. Over its thirteen years, more than 30 percent of Choice students who started college graduated with a bachelor’s degree within five years—a figure considerably higher than the graduation rate for all U.S. low-income college students.

While much went very well with Project Choice, a key takeaway was that focusing on dropout prevention did not necessarily prepare high school students to take the next big step to success in college. As a result, the Foundation drew upon its Project Choice experience and research into the factors that affect college attendance and graduation among low-income students to create a new program—Kauffman Scholars—that would do more to help students earn their college degrees.

Research clearly shows that students who receive a rigorous high school education are far more likely to attend and graduate from a four-year college. Low-income students routinely are less prepared for college than students of families with higher incomes. Moreover, these students need an array of social supports to prepare them to succeed in college.

So, as the Foundation began to develop the concept for a new education initiative, it focused on college access, college prep, and, most importantly, college graduation. Kauffman Scholars’ intent is not simply to keep teens from dropping out of high school. Instead, through the collaborative efforts of our leaders, coaches, district schools, partner colleges, community and corporate partners, families, and more, we work to fully prepare Kansas City students for bright, productive, and successful futures.

Kauffman Scholars accepted its eighth and final class of seventh-grade students during the 2011-12 school year. The program will remain active until those scholars are the college graduates of 2021 or 2022.