Joplin High School celebrates over $335 million in scholarship offers through VU Scholarship program

Jan. 19—During a Friday morning assembly, Joplin High School cheerleaders danced and the band played the school's fight song. This wasn't an athletic pep rally, though; it was held to celebrate the $335,839,072 in scholarship money available to the more than 500 members of the class of 2024.

The scholarship offers are the result of a first-year partnership between the district and VU Scholarships.

"The hope of VU is to open you all up to various scholarships," said Andrew Marquez, founder of VU Scholarships. "Some of the schools you might have heard of, some maybe you haven't. But either way, it could be a good fit for you."

The platform is designed so that students can input their academic information in a database and see, in a single report, which scholarships are available to them from a variety of participating colleges and universities. There is no fee to participate for schools, parents or students.

The district pays an annual fee of $1,950, which includes onboarding sessions, access to the VU Scholarships portal to view aggregate award amounts, a scholarship calculation for each student enrolled and award letter generation.

VU Scholarships partners with 39 regional universities and colleges. To find available scholarships, they take a data file provided by the school and upload it to an algorithm. From this, they pull scholarships each student automatically would qualify for from partner colleges.

"It takes a lot of the legwork out for kids and parents and counselors," said Randy Oliver, Joplin High School principal. "We streamlined the process so if they had an interest in any of those 39 schools, they would know exactly what they would qualify for."

Five VU Scholarship partner schools — ones included in the scholarship offers — attended the assembly. These included Missouri Southern State University, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Oklahoma State University, Southwest Baptist University and William Jewell College.

Oliver said the goal of Friday's assembly was to show students the impact these potential scholarships would have on their future. After the assembly, each student received a letter from school counselors with a QR code. That code linked them to their scholarship offers from various VU partner universities.

He noted that the award information shows scholarships the students are automatically qualified to receive, but students still have to apply and be accepted to actually receive the awards.

'Open their eyes'

Oliver hopes to reach students who thought college was out of financial reach for them.

"It may open their eyes to some schools they didn't even think about, that they may be able to get more money from," Oliver said. "That's what it's really all about. We wanted to put people in a position where they could get more college scholarships and have to do less work."

Marquez was on hand Friday to talk with students and administrators. He said VU Scholarships are partnered with about 70 high schools, mostly in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Illinois.

"I saw the impact this had in Kansas City, and I thought students in every school should have this opportunity, whether they're in a large city or rural school," Marquez said.

VU Scholarships are for all students, Marquez said. Some already know they're going to college and receiving these offers encourages them to look at options they might not have considered. Other students think that college might not be for them, or they don't have the financial means to get to college.

"For them to open up these awards and see that they do have college options can sometimes be the fire that ignites within them to take some steps in that direction," Marquez said.

Scholarships are based on a student's GPA and standardized test scores. The $335 million figure revealed on Friday is an aggregate amount of all of the individual scholarships Joplin High School students were eligible to receive.

Marquez likens it to a college athlete who might get 20 offers to go play football at 20 different schools. Students can only accept one offer.

After receiving their letters from school counselors, students gathered on the gymnasium bleachers in groups to look at their available scholarships. There were lots of smiles and surprised looks as they explored their offers.

Senior Aidan Sampson said the assembly is the first time he's heard about the VU Scholarship program.

"I'm a little surprised," Sampson said. "I did not know this was here until I walked in this morning. Hearing how much money was available to us was cool."

Scanning the QR code, he found he qualified for almost a million dollars in scholarships, from 25 different universities.

College was already on Sampson's mind. At first, he had wanted to play football at a college, but now was thinking more along the lines of studying in the sports field.

Sampson said he knows college is expensive. He's currently working at Walmart to save money for after high school, putting in his own work to advance his future. He said he's grateful for the scholarship offers to help him out.

"I had planned on staying around here, but obviously after seeing this my mind changed a little bit now seeing how much money was offered," Sampson said. "I'll be looking at more colleges, seeing what offer is the best and what will help my future career."