Special Feature

Scholarships are Much More than Money

Johnson Scholarship logo

The Johnson Scholarship Foundation was founded in 1991 to provide scholarships to help disadvantaged people to obtain post- secondary education. The idea was simple. College is expensive and money would help disadvantaged people to pursue their dreams. Money seemed to be the key ingredient. About one third of the Foundation’s grant making is dedicated to students with disabilities. Their financial case seemed even more compelling because it would likely be more difficult for students with disabilities to work part time while attending college.

After 25 years’ experience and more than $100 million in grants we have come to believe that the greater value of our scholarships is not in the money but in the “secret sauce” that goes with them.

That is not to downplay the importance of money. Without it the Foundation has no mission and no scholarships. Money is assuredly the main course. But it is the “secret sauce” that enables students to sit down and stay for dinner. And it is the “secret sauce” that students remember long afterward.

By “secret sauce” we mean non-monetary support, which can be wrapped around the scholarship. This support includes mentoring that prepares a disadvantaged student for postsecondary education. It includes academic support and tutoring. It includes follow up and counseling after the student has made the transition to college. Most important, it includes the act of faith implicit in the granting of a Johnson scholarship.

A Johnson Scholarship is a show of faith that helps its recipients through difficult moments when they think that they cannot succeed. It lights their way forward when they feel like quitting. Hope and faith instilled by the Scholarship are particularly important to students who struggle with adversity, such as those with a disability.

Students with disabilities often come to college with a history of negative feedback from their schools and peers. Those with learning differences have, at one time or other, thought of themselves as stupid. Students with physical disabilities bear the emotional scars of prejudice and condescension.

Students with disabilities need money to go to college, but more than that, they need to believe that they can and should go to college. And in addition, to believe that with education they are equal to anyone. The mentoring necessary to instill these beliefs must start in school. At the postsecondary level, the role of the Disability Resource Center is crucial.

The “secret sauce” that accompanies scholarships can be applied to support Disability Resource Centers in their vital role of student support. One of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s most successful scholarship programs is managed by State University System of Florida and the Disability Service Offices on each of the 12 state campuses. These offices run the scholarship committees, take the applications and make the awards. Their ownership of this process, and the implicit show of faith in them, enhances the status of the Disability Service Offices, particularly in the eyes of the students that they serve.

The Foundation also supports the Florida Disability Resource Centers by convening an annual meeting for them to share information on best practices and issues of common interest and professional development. Foundation staff and Board members attend student recognition events organized by Disability Resource Centers and perform other student centered tasks at the behest of Disability Resource Centers.

In the case of the State University System of Florida the Scholarship provides a platform for the invaluable student support and mentoring, which is mainly performed by Disability Resource Center professionals. This is illustrative of Foundation experience in all of its scholarship programs. The magic of scholarships comes from the “secret sauce” and not the money.

Image of Tori Lackey

Tori Lackey is a Program Specialist at the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. She has spent significant time working and volunteering with various non-profits and, having first joined the Foundation as an intern in 2014, has spent the past year learning the ins-and-outs of good grant making from the funder’s perspective. More information about the Johnson Scholarship Foundation can be found at www.jsf.bz.

Image of Malcom Macleod

Malcolm Macleod is the President and CEO of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation (JSF). Since joining the Foundation in 2001, Malcolm has spent the past 14 years working with the Board, staff and grantees to ensure that JSF is a Foundation that makes quality grants serving as catalysts for effective change. Prior to his work with the Foundation, Malcolm had a 26 year career in law and is currently a member of the Bar.