Student Success

LEADS Scholarship Saved Student from Leaving UK

Maegan-Rogers-headshotThis article shows the importance of amplifying opportunities for student success at the University of Kentucky, one of the main initiatives of the university's $2.1 billion comprehensive campaign, Kentucky Can: The 21st Century Campaign.

Without the American Bank and Trust Scholarship, Maegan Rogers would not have returned to the University of Kentucky in January. She was already planning to take a year off to work, build up her savings and return to her studies.

Thousands of UK students are just like Rogers. Regardless of their academic performance, they struggle to pay their tuition. Defeated and overwhelmed, they drop out of school and often never return.

In 2016, UK developed LEADS – Leveraging Economic Affordability for Developing Success – a scholarship program designed to help UK students who might be at risk of dropping out. UK noticed that students who had more than $5,000 in unmet need were less likely to return to campus in the fall, regardless of their academic performance, said Todd Brann, director of analytics and assessment, academic excellence at UK. 

Unmet need is the remaining balance on a student’s account after all federal and school assistance is applied, scholarships are awarded and the student pays the recommended family contribution as determined by the FAFSA. LEADS reduces students’ unmet need to $5,000 or less – often eliminating the students’ balance.

“We were essentially targeting students for whom finances were their only barrier to success,” Brann said. 

The university piloted the program in 2016, awarding 178 students LEADS scholarships. In the last two years, two major donors doubled the LEADS fund, allowing UK to award more scholarships to needy students. This year, First Breckinridge Bancshares joined the LEADS effort. Seven individual banks, including American Bank and Trust, contributed money to support a student from their hometown.

The UK Office of Academic Scholarships selects the students based on a complex formula that accounts for students’ financial need as well as academic merit. Though the banks provide funding for the scholarships, they do not participate in their selection and are unaware of the recipients until after the scholarships are awarded.

For Executive Vice President Craig Stahl, supporting Rogers is especially meaningful. His two sons attend UK, and he knows the struggles students face. He is happy the scholarship can help a deserving student like Rogers.

For Rogers, it was a lifesaver. Her sister was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma three days after Rogers graduated high school. Her parents have been consumed with doctors’ bills and appointments. Rogers began working a full-time job to support herself at UK.

“It was always my dream to attend a four-year college, but my financial struggles were keeping me up at night,” Rogers said. “When I found out about this scholarship, I think that was the first night I slept all the way through. I knew I could not keep going without this scholarship and had already made plans to go home and take a year off so I could save and raise the money for my tuition.”

And Rogers has big plans for her future. An agriculture education and economics major, she wants to teach agriculture and be an advocate for the industry. Eventually, she would like to become the secretary of agriculture.

“I know how important the industry is to our state and world,” Rogers said. “It is not an industry you can just cast to the side. Farmers are just as important as doctors, because they make a significant difference in your life.”

But trying to juggle a full course load and a full-time job was becoming too much. She never felt fully committed to anything she was doing and did not want to let her grades slip.

“When I found out about the American Bank and Trust scholarship, I started tearing up,” Rogers said. “It took a huge weight off my chest. This bank literally saved my education. I am so thankful for their support, and now I can teach and influence future students because this bank cared about and invested in my education.”