Service-Based Scholarship Model

Strategy  •  Background  •  Next Steps  •  Available Resources


The Bonner Leader Program leverages the community-service work-study funding to enable students to participate in the four-year developmental model for community engagement.

The “access to education” portion of the Bonner Program’s motto references the Bonner Foundation’s requirement that schools with Bonner Leaders have at least 75% of the participating students qualify for Federal Work-Study, though most have closer to 100% who qualify.  Schools have the option to award students with “College Work-Study” or some other private source for the stipends.

Short overview on recruiting and selecting Bonner Leaders, and approaches to funding student stipends.

Each year schools recruit and select as few a five and as many as 40 incoming first year student into their Bonner Program, with a typical size of 15 Bonners per class.  We encourage schools to maintain a gender balance of no more than a 60%/40%, while also recruiting a diverse of student by race, ethnicity, and first generation status.

The “opportunity to serve” portion of the Bonner Program motto references the Bonner Program’s model for leveraging the work component of a student’s financial aid package to enable them to earn money for college through community work.  Participating schools commit to awarding Bonners a four-year stipend from (or equivalent to) Community Service Federal Work-Study for 10 hours per week.

Schools generally meet this expectation through their Federal Work-Study Program (FWS) which requires schools to award a minimum of 7% of their annual FWS grant for positions where they serve in the local community with non-profit or government agencies.

Many schools also provide additional financial aid scholarships to students in their Bonner Program.  Some of these are designated service-based scholarships while others are institutional funds or discounts awarded to students because they are enrolled in the Bonner Program.

Because Bonner Scholars and Bonner Leaders engage in 280+ hours annually, often working with one community partner or neighborhood issue over multiple years, this puts student leadership at the center of deep, reciprocal, and developmental partnerships. 

Connection to Community Impact

Because of the long-term nature of partnerships cultivated by the Bonner Program and campus centers, the schools, nonprofit and government partners can count on having a range of different supports including:

The design of the Bonner Program financial aid model allows campuses to cut through many of the typical barriers of charity-focused community service to promote deep, sustained relationships and place-based connections. It allows for Bonner Programs and campus centers to provide consistent, multiyear engagement on a multitude of issues: such as community development, education, the environment, health care, housing, and poverty reduction. Bonner community partners can count on highly trained and motivated students, who themselves often come from the types of communities they serve, growing into leadership and management roles. 

Connection to Campus Impact

Combining “access to education” with an “opportunity to serve” is a powerful student success program, especially for students with high financial need and a commitment to community service. 

In addition, the Bonner Program recruits, trains, and supports students who play a significant role in catalyzing campus-wide student engagement in community service, as well as in leadership roles throughout campus.

Connection to Higher Education Impact

Since its founding, the Bonner Program has promoted access and success for low-income students. More than 85% of Bonner Scholar Program participants must come from families with high financial need (Pell-eligible). Each Bonner Program has a demographic composition that exceeds the diversity (in terms of ethnicity and socioeconomic background) of its campus wide population. More than 40% are first generation students. Students from African American and Latino backgrounds are more highly represented amongst Bonners than in the general student body. And, the original Appalachian colleges and the Bonner students from them have shaped our community from the beginning.

Because Bonner students graduate at rates equal to or exceeding their individual campuses, we believe the Bonner Program serves as a model for institutions seeking successful approaches to recruiting and retaining high need, first generation, diverse students who thrive academically and personally while in college.


The history of the Bonner Scholar Program describes how the original Bonner Foundation funding replaced Federal Work-Study for students to allow their student employment to become service to their local community.  The Bonner Leader Program began when the Federal rules changed to require campuses to spend a minimum of 5% (now 7%) of their annual grant on student placements with local non-profit and government agencies or service through their campus-wide community engagement center.  The Community Service Federal Work-Study funding has allowed the number of schools with Bonner Program to triple in size.

Next Steps

The Bonner Network has grown to 65 colleges and universities and supports 3,000 annually, with three to four new schools starting programs each year. 

We have completed a number of assessments on the impact of the Bonner Program on participating students and alumni.  We recently completed a small data study on retention of Bonners at a small group of schools.  And, we are in the pilot phase of an updated Bonner Student Impact Survey, which will be administered to all active first year and senior year Bonners in Fall, 2018.

Available Resources

The Bonner Wiki has all the resources for starting and managing a Bonner Program.  The Bonner Program Start-Up guide and resources can be found here.  If you are interested in starting a program, see this page to submit an interest form.

Since most schools leverage Federal Work-Study funding as a key source of stipends for the students in their Bonner Program, you might find this publication from the Campus Compact useful: