Last December, officials at Georgetown College announced a plan that would make higher education available to a generation of Kentucky students who might not otherwise be able to afford it.
The Legacy and Legends program will provide four-year, full-tuition scholarships to high school graduates in Scott, Franklin, Owen, and Casey Counties for the next decade. Students will have to live on campus and pay their own room and board, but academic fees of up $160,000 will be covered by the new scholarship.
“We wanted to create an opportunity to provide even more access to young people to this transformative education that we offer," says Georgetown College President William Jones. “If we can keep more young people closer to home, provide them with an extremely high quality education, I think it makes it more likely that they’re going to end up settling here once they do get their four-year degree.”
Jones is the 25th president of the liberal arts college in Scott County. Started 190 years ago, the school was long affiliated with the Baptist denomination, but now labels itself a Christian institution.
“We're a college, we’re not a church,” says Jones. “Our faculty members have academic freedom.” says Jones.
But he says that doesn’t mean the teachings of Jesus aren’t part of a student’s educational experience at the school.
“You’re going to have conversations about your academic discipline, you’re going to be prepared in a way that’s going to make you highly successful in graduate school or out in the workforce,” Jones continues. “But also you’ll have conversations with faculty members about those things that really matter – about kindness, and about mercy, and about empathy and gratitude – those lessons that I do think come from our Christian tradition and from the scriptures.”
The Benefits of Higher Education
The school boasts an enrollment of about 1,600, which includes students from about 30 states and 20 countries, according to Jones. He says Georgetown is known for strong education- and business-degree programs as well as pre-medical school and pre-law tracks. The college also boasts having had 36 Fulbright Scholars and 5 Rhodes Scholars, and it offers an honors program through Oxford University in England.
“More people in the commonwealth are paying attention now to what we have to offer,” he says. “We’re the number one college in Kentucky for job and graduate school placement two years in a row.”
While tuition costs for public and private universities continue to climb, officials at Georgetown want to make sure their academic offerings remain affordable. Jones encourages all prospective students to complete financial aid applications to see what funding they may be eligible to receive against the normal per-semester "sticker price."
“What you actually see on the website is not always what you’re going to pay,” says Jones.
In addition to the new Legacy and Legends scholarships available to students in counties that have a historic connection to the college, Jones says every student at Georgetown receives some kind of scholarship support, either for academic merit or athletic or artistic talent. He says 40 percent of the students at the school also qualify for federal Pell Grants available to students from low-income families.
Regardless of the out-of-pocket costs the student actually pays, Jones says a college degree remains an excellent investment.
“The latest study… shows that over your lifetime, the difference between a four-year degree and just a high school diploma is about a million dollars worth of earnings on average," says Jones. “Your education at Georgetown is transformative and will help you not only be a great citizen, a great community member, but help you be a wonderful professional as well.”
’You Will Be a College Graduate’
Jones is living proof of the power of education to change a life. He was raised a cardboard-insulated coal shack located at the head of a holler in Whitley County on the Kentucky-Tennessee border. The family didn't get indoor plumbing until Jones was 16 years old, when they moved into a federal housing project in Williamsburg.
“I learned a lot about resiliency, and loyalty, and kindness, and grit,” he says, “and I also learned a lot of what I wanted to have different in my own life.”
Neither of his parents completed school: His mother dropped out in eighth grade when she got married and his father dropped out in ninth grade. But Jones says they both had higher aspirations for their children.
“When I was in third grade... my parents started telling me, ‘You will be a college graduate,’” he says. “They saw it as a way out of poverty, not just financial poverty but also emotional, psychological, spiritual poverty as well.”
But it took more than the firm belief of his parents for Jones to climb the academic ladder. He also credits a range of teachers, coaches, and pastors for pushing him to avoid the same fate as other men in his family who experienced violent premature deaths.
“Society was going to pay for me to either live in prison or go to college, and I’m grateful for the fact that I got to go to college,” says Jones. “I'm also grateful for the ability to live in a society that believes education is important and wants to invest in it.”
Jones received a tuition-free degree from Berea College and then he earned a master’s degree in philanthropy and development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota. He held fundraising positions at small schools in Indiana and Virginia, before becoming president of Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kan. Last July, he was named president of Georgetown College. Jones says it’s rewarding to be part of institution that provides a holistic educational experience.
“At Georgetown, we don’t just care that your mind is expanded,” he says. “We want to expand your heart as well, and a heart once expanded can never contract. So to invite people to invest in that kind of transformation is very easy for me.”
In addition to his regular duties, Jones is overseeing a strategic planning process for the school. He says a committee of faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community members will review options for new academic programs as well as upgrades to the school’s residence halls and athletic facilities. He says Georgetown, like all other institutions of higher education, cannot simply be about dispensing knowledge in an age when virtually all information is instantly available on your smartphone.
“Anything you want to know, you can know, but how are you going to use that knowledge, and what difference is it going to make in your own life and someone else’s life?” says Jones. “Those kinds of conversations are, I think, what a lot of colleges and universities will be focusing on as we go forward.”