The Brook J. Lenfest Foundation, in partnership with the Philadelphia Foundation, has committed up to $630,000 to Penn State as part of the Lenfest "Immensitas" Scholars Program, which will provide scholarship support for youth from the Philadelphia region in foster care and aging out of foster care. Immensitas (pronounced immense-it-tas) is Latin for “boundless” and signifies the unlimited potential of every youth, as well as the life opportunities available to those with a college degree.
The gift will fund a three-year pilot, and the University will complement it with $375,000 in support from existing scholarship funds. The program will be implemented in partnership with the University’s Fostering Lions Program, which provides a range of support services for former foster youth at Penn State.
The Lenfest Immensitas Scholars Program is a $1.8 million initiative of the Brook J. Lenfest Foundation and Philadelphia Foundation designed to increase college graduation among up to 100 Philadelphians annually. It will establish similar scholarship support for foster youth at Harcum College, West Chester College and the Pennsylvania College of Technology.
“The Lenfest Immensitas Scholars Program represents a powerful commitment to a population of students with unique and varied challenges who are often underserved in higher education,” said Penn State President Eric J. Barron. “Helping former foster youth to succeed at Penn State is another way we can honor our core mission of providing educational opportunities to promising students regardless of their backgrounds. This gift builds upon Brook’s truly remarkable history of philanthropic partnership with our University, and I am deeply grateful for the tremendous generosity he and his foundation have shown over the years to students from the Philadelphia region.”
The Brook J. Lenfest Foundation previously partnered with Penn State in 2002 to create the Lenfest Scholars Program, and in 2014 it pledged $7 million to create the Brook J. Lenfest Foundation Trustee Scholarship. In 2018, it established an Open Doors Scholarship with a $1 million gift that was matched two-to-one by Penn State. All of these programs are helping students from the Philadelphia area with significant financial need to attend Penn State and succeed in their life pursuits.
Under Pennsylvania’s Fostering Independence Tuition Waiver Program, tuition and fees for undergraduate degrees at colleges and universities in Pennsylvania are waived for youth in foster care to reduce financial barriers.
The Lenfest Immensitas Scholars Program will cover room, board and expenses such as books, computers and essentials for dorm living, while simultaneously leveraging an extensive support system for participants. Supports will include academic advising, a summer bridge program, housing and meals during school breaks, financial and money management guidance and a designated liaison at each school.
At Penn State, the program will fund five students per year at the University Park campus for a three-year pilot phase, and all 15 students entering the program during that time will be given up to five years of funding in order to complete their bachelor’s degree. Penn State has committed to provide each Lenfest Immensitas Scholar with $5,000 per year, drawn from various University-administered scholarship funds.
“I believe that education can make all men and women equal regardless of what neighborhood they are from or what their economic start in life was like,” said Brook Lenfest. “Through education, anyone can broaden their horizons and enrich their outlook on life and pursue any career path that exists. Through that freedom, they can find fulfillment, economic security and, ultimately, a happy life.
“Unfortunately, access to educational opportunity is not equal across all neighborhoods and households. These scholarships are a small way to try and even the scales of opportunity,” he added.
“I know the recipients will make themselves proud and in turn, make me proud by achieving at a high level, and I hope their example will encourage others to join this effort with their support.”
Approximately 250 Philadelphia youth annually age out of foster care beginning at age 18. It is estimated that only 3% of former foster youth who enroll in college will graduate.
“Philadelphia Foundation believes in the critical role of education in shaping and preparing future leaders,” said Pedro Ramos, president and CEO of Philadelphia Foundation. “As long-time funders of both educational opportunities and vulnerable populations, we are proud to partner with the Brook J. Lenfest Foundation on this important initiative and look forward to bringing it to scale.”
At Penn State, the Lenfest Immensitas Scholars Program will complement the efforts of the University’s Fostering Lions Program, which is part of the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network. Launched in 2018, Fostering Lions is designed to improve educational outcomes for students entering Penn State from the foster care system. Fostering Lions personnel coordinate with various units across the University to help students identify and secure scholarships and grants; provide tutoring and career planning; provide counseling, life skills workshops and other forms of social and emotional support; and help them meet such needs as housing, transportation and health care.
“The Lenfest Immensitas Scholars program is an exciting development for former foster youth at Penn State,” said Cheri McConnell, Fostering Lions coach. “These students face a host of challenges that can make them feel isolated and alone at college. They typically can’t ask their parents for spending money or advice, and they may have no home to return to during school breaks — things most students take for granted. They are also at a higher risk of having experienced abuse or neglect. Fostering Lions is working hard to help them overcome these challenges, but nothing we do will matter if our students can’t afford to complete their degree. I am thankful to Mr. Lenfest for his vision in identifying this need and for giving so generously to help these students realize their dreams of a Penn State education.”
To be eligible for the Lenfest Immensitas Scholars Program at Penn State, the applicant must have been served by the Philadelphia Department of Human Services at any time since age 16, have earned a high school degree or GED, be attending University Park and qualify under the Chafee federal grant program for foster care participants. To learn more about how to apply, contact Cheri McConnell at email@example.com or 814-865-2193.