LeBron’s new scholarship program will have a huge impact on Akron kids

Everyone knows that giving is good. But in terms of economic development, community progress and quality of life, philanthropic initiative can have an even greater role.

It can fuel sustained improvement, a stronger workforce and better opportunity for more people. Philanthropy can complement other forms of development and inspire increased economic development and community support.

When citizens see that those with the means to do so believe in their neighborhood, city or region and support local endeavors it creates a momentum for more support. Philanthropy is a way of showing what’s important to a community.

A great example of this is the recent announcement by the University of Akron and the LeBron James Family Foundation that could result in hundreds of Akron schoolchildren attending the university on full scholarships.

Scholarship recipients — the first scholarships are expected by 2021 — will have to meet certain academic and other standards. Through the work of all involved, at-risk Akron schoolchildren will have the college educations they need to move forward in life.

A tremendous opportunity
For the last four years, the LJFF has selected approximately 300 third-graders in the Akron Public Schools for its Wheels for Education program, providing summer technology camp experiences, after-school activities and mentorship opportunities.

As those students enter middle school, they are moved to the foundation’s Akron I PROMISE Network, where they stay through high school.

Students eligible for the free four-year scholarships to UA include about 1,100 students currently in those programs, and as many as 1,200 to be added over the next four years. This program complements others in the Greater Akron region, such as the full-tuition Innovation Generation Scholarship already offered by UA in partnership with Akron Public Schools.

Philanthropy also is vital because of the ways in which it encourages and inspires other involvement and support. UA education professors will monitor the LJFF scholarship students to make sure they are on track to graduate and meet the extra requirements to qualify for the scholarships.

JPMorgan Chase, which has 22,000 employees in Ohio, will implement a program to collect data and measure the criteria students must meet. This work by the UA faculty and Chase is important, as reliable and actionable data must be a crucial element of the ongoing success of Wheels for Education, the Akron I PROMISE Network and the new scholarships at UA.

Keeping the talent pipeline open happens through efforts big and small. This includes building educational opportunities and the motivation to stay in school, contributing to a better quality of life and building businesses to employ our people.

Raising the city’s high school graduation rate is a goal shared by Akron Public Schools, the LJFF, UA, the Greater Akron Chamber and many others. Philanthropic partnership is one of the many tools we have, and we all — higher education, philanthropy and commerce — have parts to play. ●

Daniel C. Colantone, CCE, is president and CEO at the Greater Akron Chamber.