Jack Kent Cooke Foundation

Lifting Up High-Achievers Among the Poor

  • Education
  • 2000

Jack Kent Cooke dropped out of high school during the Depression to help support his family, and went on to great success as an entrepreneur and sports-team owner. His will provided that when his Washington Redskins NFL team and other assets were sold after his death, the assets would go to a foundation dedicated to helping exceptionally promising students from low-income families. Since 2000, his foundation has built up one of the country’s richest set of scholarships and supports for high-achieving poor children, to whom it has so far distributed a quarter of a billion dollars in a combination of scholarships and services.

The Jack Kent Cooke Young Scholars program identifies low-income eighth-graders with high academic potential, plus demonstrated persistence, leadership, and good citizenship, then provides them with four years of one-on-one help from an educational adviser who guides and supports the student (via home and school visits, phone, and e-mail) in selecting a high school, picking challenging classes, taking summer and online enrichment courses, excelling at extracurriculars, and preparing for and applying to college. Each of the roughly 250 students in the program at any given time gets an Individual Learning Plan, and stipends as needed to succeed. In turn, scholarship recipients are required to maintain all A or B grades, to work hard, and exhibit good character.

Complementing this program covering the high-school years are the Jack Kent Cooke college scholarships. These provide poor but top-achieving students who want to attend America’s very best colleges a four-year scholarship of up to $40,000 per year, along with personal advising. Around 150 undergraduates are benefitting from the program in any given year.

The JKC transfer scholarship is an excellent and unusual program for top community-college students. It offers the same $40,000 annual stipend to those who have done well in a two-year college and now want to transfer to a selective four-year institution. It is offered to 55 new winners every year.

The Cooke graduate scholarships have provided more than $70 million for graduate education of students who have succeeded in the two previous programs.

And the remarkable Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist awards every year give $10,000 scholarships to 20 outstanding young musicians age eight to 18 so they can pursue their music at the very highest level. Awardees also get an opportunity to perform on the national radio program “From the Top.” Many poor youngsters have in this way been propelled into high-level musical careers.

As a supplement to this panoply of scholarships, the Cooke foundation also makes annual grants to nonprofits that expand educational opportunities to their target high-achievement/low-income population. And in 2015, the foundation created the Cooke Prize, an annual $1 million award to an elite college university with a great record of turning low-income students into top scholars.