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Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer 431d

LeBron James' foundation opens institute to aid college students

NBA, Cleveland Cavaliers, Akron Zips, Akron Zips, Akron Zips

CLEVELAND -- LeBron James already pledged to help put kids in college. Now he has committed to help those students get through the day-to-day once they arrive on campus.

The LeBron James Family Foundation announced the creation of the I PROMISE Institute on the University of Akron campus Thursday. The institute is intended to be a resource for students who earn four-year scholarships to Akron through James' program.

"When we first started this program, I wanted my kids to graduate from high school. But the more we grow as a Foundation, the more we find can be done to give our kids the best chance to be successful," James said in a statement. "We don't just want our kids to get to college, we want them to graduate from college. And we want to make sure we are doing everything we can to help them do that."

 According to a release, the institute will employ "a team of educators dedicated to researching best practices, implementing academic interventions, and providing around-the-clock support for its students as they navigate college."

 Foundation spokesperson Stephanie Rosa said that the University of Akron is funding the scholarships themselves and LJFF is funding the Institute.

The institute will be housed in a currently undeveloped space inside InfoCision Stadium, where the Zips play their football games.

The institute will spend the next five years readying itself for the inaugural class of students in James' program, currently in eighth grade, to arrive at Akron in the fall of 2021. During that time, a governing board of academics from across the country -- including Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs at the University of Mississippi; Paul A. Herold from the University of Akron; and Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D., the president of Radford University -- researching and developing how the institute will focus its efforts moving forward. A stated goal of the institute's curriculum is to "get to the root of urban youth retention."

"If we want to be ready for our students when they get to campus in a few short years, the work needs to start now," Michele Campbell, executive director of the foundation, said in a statement. "For many of our kids, they are the first in their families to attend college, so we want to create a familiar, encouraging environment where they feel safe and supported. We believe we have the academics and the experts in place to ensure the I PROMISE Institute will be a valuable and impactful resource for our students."

Speaking during shootaround before the Cleveland Cavaliers hosted the Toronto Raptors in a preseason game Thursday night, James said it was important to start students toward success as early as possible.

"If we didn't grab these kids by the third grade, their success rate of graduating high school would be limited and shortened, and third grade was the number, that was the age group," James said. "We also started thinking about, yeah, we're putting these kids in college and getting them education, but also the success rate of graduating college is very low as well even once you get to college. So we wanted to figure out a way where we could help these kids graduate college, and that's where the institute came from. And we're building the criteria right now where kids that get their credentials get a college education from our foundation, from our program that we will have people and things in place to help them graduate college too. Just trying to make a difference."

James also posted about the institute on Instagram Wednesday night.

The institute is being funded in part by Sprite, which James has endorsed since his rookie season in 2003.

"My foundation is probably, besides my family, the No. 1 thing in my life," James said Wednesday. "Being able to change kids and families, giving them an opportunity to see better days, we strive to do that every single day. And I get emails and I talked to my kids weekly about their progression for my kids that are in elementary [school] all the way to the kids in middle school, high school and the kids that are going to be going to college soon. So that's a huge thing for me.

"I have a vision on what I do entails. I can't get involved in what everybody else does. It has to be in you to want to help, to want to give back to your community. I don't think you should have to be forced to do it, because if you're forced to do it, then it won't be genuine to the people that are receiving it. For me, it's a genuine thing for me -- for me and my foundation and for my family to give back to our community, so I know what my vision is. I know what I'm going to be able to do in this next 10 to 20 to 30, 40 years."

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