Jennifer Elmore's hometown--Tornado, W.Va.--is so small that it doesn't even have a stoplight. In high school, she boarded a bus at 6:30 for the ride through the mountains to St. Albans. But today, she's on her way to becoming the first college grad in her family because of Kentucky's Berea College. The 148-year-old Christian liberal-arts school has made a mission of educating students from Appalachia who are often overlooked by big-name schools. Elmore, a 19-year-old pre-med major, chose Berea because no one would make fun of her background. "One of the great equalizers here," she says, "is that everybody's on a full-tuition scholarship."
That's right--full tuition, thanks to Berea's $715 million endowment. That's a powerful lure for the 1,500 students, who come from families with an average income of $30,000. They do have to pay for room and board (scholarships are available). Berea also requires students to spend 140 hours a semester doing everything from cleaning to running the computer center.
President Larry Shinn says he's moved by students' life stories before and after Berea. He says many become doctors, nurses or social workers in Appalachia. "Our students understand that many people are giving of themselves to make their education possible," he says. "They leave knowing that they will give back."