Daniels Scholarship Program

Sending Diamonds in the Rough to College

  • Prosperity
  • 2000

Bill Daniels completed a couple years of junior college before serving as a fighter pilot in World War II, but never returned to campus or received a degree. He subsequently worked in the insurance business, as a roughneck in oil fields, as a short-order cook, and as a bellhop. He recognized business potential when he saw early cable-TV systems in the West, and he eventually built a large cable empire. But he understood that some people bloom late, and he never lost his sympathy for underdogs. So when he died, Daniels left $1.1 billion to establish a charitable fund to help residents of the Western states where he spent most of his life, with a special mandate to provide “second chances” to people in need.

The largest part of his money is dedicated to offering college scholarships to “diamonds in the rough”—young people who show grit and determination despite having been “knocked down a time or two.” In the population targeted by the Daniels Fund, only about a fifth of young people go to college. Many of the applicants lack strong academic credentials, but a process of recommendations and interviews allows the fund to identify a pool who are hungry for opportunity, able to lead, and willing to work. The program covers not only tuition, room, and board but also transportation, health care, and a computer. Students are required to hold a paying job for a few hours each week during the academic year, and they participate in special workshops on ethics, civics, business principles, leadership, critical thinking, patriotism, etiquette, and other topics.

In 2014, 244 Daniels Scholars were selected from four Western states. This brought the cumulative total of students who have been awarded scholarships to 3,006. More recently, the Daniels Fund launched its “Boundless Opportunity” scholarships, targeted at adults heading to college, GED recipients, youths coming out of foster care or reformatories, returning military, and other nontraditional populations.

The success of the Daniels Scholarship Program has inspired other efforts to assist students who might otherwise be overlooked. Fellow Denver residents Tim and Bernie Marquez donated $50 million in 2007 (which other donors supplemented with an additional $28 million of private giving) to fuel the Denver Scholarship Foundation. Echoing Bill Daniels, Tim Marquez explains that “we look for the hidden jewels, kids who maybe haven’t worked so hard because they didn’t think they could go to college, or who felt they had no reason to try. They are not in the top 10-15 percent of their class, but have natural abilities.” The Marquezes will support not only college attendance but also trade schools, community college classes, and studies to become accredited as an auto mechanic, child-care provider, or other trained worker. As Bernie Marquez puts it, “Whatever students choose to do beyond high school to further their education, we will help them do that.”