High school seniors benefit from more than the college scholarships that the Ak-Sar-Ben Coronation & Scholarship Ball has funded since 1988. What makes a difference for them is partnerships.

While Nebraska football coach in 1991, Tom Osborne and his wife, Nancy, started a mentoring program that has spread to 120 communities in Nebraska and Iowa.

And — in 2008 — to Ak-Sar-Ben scholars. They became the first students in college to be offered a mentoring option through the TeamMates mentoring program.

TeamMates has mentored students as young as third-graders. The program’s primary goal is to see high school students go on to postsecondary education.

With mentoring, “we find there’s significant improvement in graduation rates and … in hope,” Osborne said. “When kids have no hope, sometimes they turn to things that can be pretty destructive.”

Ak-Sar-Ben’s partnership with TeamMates gives college-bound scholars another caring adult in their lives.

“Quite a few of our scholarship recipients are first-generation college attendees,” said Jon Burt, president of the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben Foundation.

Scholarships are need-based. The average household income for students’ families is $24,731.

“There is a high turnover rate with first-generation college students,” Osborne said. “If we can help get them through the first year, they’re more likely to finish.”

In 2005, Ak-Sar-Ben partnered with the Horatio Alger Association, which now helps manage the scholarship program that the Knights began in 1945.

“Horatio Alger has programs in all 50 states with counseling for students and financial aid available,” Burt said.

Since 2005, 78 percent of Ak-Sar-Ben scholars have earned a college degree compared to the U.S. average of 59 percent of enrolled students.

Kimberly Hord, who led the scholarship selection committee, said she saw that students with adversity in their lives become even more determined to succeed.

“When I received and read the pre-reviewed applications from Horatio Alger, I soon learned that all these kids are extremely gifted, talented, and well-deserving of these scholarships,” she said.

Scholars selected have an average high school GPA of 3.68.

The $6,000 Ak-Sar-Ben scholarships — to 50 recipients payable over four years — become $12,000 scholarships when matched by the University of Nebraska system, Creighton University, College of St. Mary, Bellevue University or Metropolitan Community College.

Ak-Sar-Ben is also set to expand its scholarship offerings, with an Oct. 17 benefit concert featuring Reba McEntire and special guests the Tenors marking the launch.

More details on the scholarship program will be unveiled this fall.

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