The founding mission for the Bonner Program is to provide diverse low-income, under-represented, and first generation students with the opportunity to attend college, while engaging their talents and educations in building and supporting communities.

In 1990, the Bonner Foundation launched the first Bonner Scholars Program in partnership with Berea College in Kentucky, also signaling a commitment to rural Appalachia. Designed to provide students with “access to education and an opportunity to serve,” the program has grown to become the largest privately-funded, service-based college scholarship program in the country.  The scholarship provides students with high financial need (defined as Pell eligible) and an ethic for service with four-years of financial aid support and an opportunity to participate in an intensive cohort experience.

With the addition of AmeriCorps Education Awards in 1997, the Bonner Leader Program enabled other campuses to replicate the model, using other resources like Federal Work Study. Collectively, the Bonner Programs at more than 60 campuses nationwide now engage roughly 3,000 students annually. 

Today, the Bonner Program continues to provide campuses with a viable model that supports the successful enrollment, retention, and graduation of low-income, first generation, and diverse students. 

Goals for the Bonner Program 

The Bonner Program is designed to transform not only the students who are directly supported by the program, but also the campus and community in which they serve and learn. The goals of the program are identified in four areas: student development, community involvement, campus engagement, and higher education.

For the Student:

  • To provide access to a college education for students with high financial need.
  • To afford students the opportunity to enhance and use their abilities, talents, and leadership to serve others while in college.
  • To create a supportive community of students on campus whose common focus on community service gives them a sense of purpose and meaning.

For the Campus:

  • To help recruit and retain a diverse group of students who might not otherwise be able to attend college.
  • To challenge and support the college to create a culture of service where the stated mission of service is translated in such a way that every student, faculty, and staff is encouraged to serve.
  • To support a core group of student leaders to build and strengthen the organizations on campus that promote a culture of service.
  • To support a core group of faculty members and professional staff who link the work of community engagement to the life of the college, in both curricular and co-curricular ways. 

For the Community:

  • To channel the energies of college students, faculty, and staff to continue to improve and expand upon the quality and nature of services offered to the community.
  • To break down the barriers between town and gown leading to improved communication and greater collaboration between the two.

For Higher Education:

  • To serve as a successful model to other colleges and universities who are interested in starting their own community service scholarship program.
  • To serve as a successful model for catalyzing and sustaining community engagement and public scholarship, including by students and faculty, in ways that build the capacity of communities. 
  • To form a consortium of diverse higher education institutions which share a common commitment to service.
  • To provide leadership to a nation searching for ways to value and include young people in meaningful acts of citizenship.