Navigating the System: Championing Support in Higher Education

In America, higher education is something we often take for granted and never seems to come with an affordable price tag. Since 1980, the cost of a four-year college degree at a public university has increased 121% in the United States. This only limits access to higher education, especially for students who are refugees trying to navigate the American school system. As of 2022, there were over 10,000 English language learner students in the JCPS school system.

As a middle school student in 2008, Irakoze Dieudone and his family left Mtablia Refugee Camp in Tanzania and made their new home in Kentucky. Dieudone came from a French education system, so learning English in America was a steep learning curve. Through the help of Newcomers’ Academy within JCPS, he started learning English through ESL classes.“Back in high school, they called it learning ‘English as a Second Language’ or ESL, but now they call it ELL [or ‘English Language Learner,]’ said Dieudone.

As a refugee student whose family came to the U.S., Dieudone began researching universities to attend and experienced a culture shock when looking at tuition prices. “I don’t think that my parents understood how expensive [college was],” said Dieudone. “When I looked at the tuition, I was like ‘My parents cannot afford any of this.’” Unfortunately, this is the reality for most students in the United States who are trying to fulfill their dreams through higher education goals. 

That is where the scholarship program at the Community Foundation of Louisville comes in to eliminate barriers and assist students like Dieudone in achieving their higher education goals without going into debt. Being the only child out of his five siblings to graduate from a four-year college program, it was challenging to navigate those waters alone. “To me, [the scholarships] meant a lot,” shared Dieudone. “I am so thankful for the support from my counselor and ELL teacher for their support and guidance through high school. My counselor, Andrew Thomas, introduced me to the scholarship program at the Community Foundation of Louisville. I planned on staying in Kentucky for university because I was new in the States and wanted to get in-state tuition. With the help of my ELL teacher, Ms. Harper, I applied for about 20 [scholarships], and luckily, I received some support. They were excited, and I was excited.”

The generosity of community investors changes student lives for the better by creating scholarship funds through the Community Foundation. Thanks to the financial assistance from the M-H Tuggle Scholarship and David C. & Emma W. Miles McElvaney Scholarship, Dieudone attended Northern Kentucky University to explore his passion for world politics. “During university, I went into International Relations,” said Dieudone. “I am very passionate about the world and the politics of the world because that’s how my family ended up in the States.” 

The support from these scholarships also helped Dieudone fully engage in the educational experience through serving in leadership roles on campus, study abroad trips, and internships that expanded his worldview. Today, he serves as Financial Management Specialist for the Peace Corps Headquarters.  

Dieudone credits the support of the Community Foundation of Louisville and its donors for how far he has gotten today. “I will say, this experience is going to be a part of me forever. I know how much the Community Foundation means to me and its impact on me. I went to university and graduated with zero debt. I feel [like] a part of the family at the Community Foundation. With my experience, and hoping that everything goes well, I want to give back one day.”

Know a student looking for financial assistance? Share our General Scholarship Application today! The deadline to apply is March 31, 2023. For more information about scholarship opportunities or how to create a scholarship fund, email