Unlocking college opportunity: How the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation emboldens future leaders

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In this blog series, we will be highlighting the incredible work of some of our Scholar Snapp partners who are driving innovation in higher education to support low-income students to college graduation. You can find the full series here.

The third in our series, this blog highlights the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation. The organization invests in graduating high school seniors who are dedicated to leadership, service, and action that positively affects others. We recently spoke with Jane Hale Hopkins, President, about the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation approach to supporting students to college success.

Tell us about the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation. How does the organization support students to and through college?

We were formed in 1986 as a joint partnership between The Coca-Cola Company and all of its U.S. based bottling partners around the country. The program was created to celebrate Coca-Cola’s centennial birthday, rewarding future leaders of the communities in which we do business with a four-year college scholarship. Over the last 30 years, we’ve invested over $66 million in 6,000 scholars throughout the country.

What makes our program special among scholarship programs is our sense of family. We continually connect and nurture all of our scholars, not just when they win their scholarship but throughout college and beyond. Our scholars are extraordinary as individuals, and as a community they become a powerful catalyst for good in the world.

How does Scholar Snapp fit into your student support?

Understanding that time and money are two critical barriers to higher education, Scholar Snapp is crucial to our efforts to provide equal access to students. Over 200,000 high school seniors start an application for our scholarship. Whether or not they are accepted into our program, giving them a platform to easily apply for other scholarships and supporting them throughout their journey is really important to us.

What’s on the horizon for the Coca-Cola Scholars Program in the coming years?

We are at a special place in the history of the foundation. We’re embarking on a journey from a transactional organization to a transformational organization, which involves thinking intentionally about how we want to continue to show up in these leaders’ lives. We’re developing a roadmap for how scholars engage with the foundation to ensure we’re meeting them where they are throughout their lives.

We want to continue to remind them of the importance of the values for which they were selected as a Coca-Cola Scholar. This starts with our leadership summits, which bring scholars together every five years to learn from one another, hear what others are doing in their communities, and inspire them to take action in their own. Anytime we put Coke Scholars together in a room, magic happens! We’ve also developed a coaching program and a leadership institute both of which team alumni scholars with freshman scholars, helping build connections and support for our students throughout their college transition.

What’s your message to other organizations supporting students to college completion?

Cast as wide a net as possible to find students who can benefit from scholarship support. Think broadly about how to use your scholarship dollars to best suit each individual student’s needs. Share best practices among the scholarship community. And collaborate well with institutions of higher education to eliminate barriers for students. Most importantly, be a healthy participant in the discourse on how best to support students’ dreams and aspirations for higher education.

What is your vision for higher education over the next 10 years?

Despite the national conversation around the value-add of higher education, I believe the connections that our college and university systems create between younger students and older generations in the imaginative process of learning will remain fundamental. Communities built on learning are essential to the advancement of our society, even as delivery systems continue to evolve in the digital age.

Jane Hale Hopkins serves as President of the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation and is responsible for advancing the Foundation’s efforts to develop an influential community of socially conscious and service-minded leaders who positively shape the world. She also serves on the Boards of the Phi Theta Kappa Foundation, The Jeanette Rankin Foundation and GA CASA.