Basketball star LeBron James will offer college scholarships to Akron students through his LeBron James Family Foundation. National Journal

When LeBron James gathered thousands of students and their families at an Ohio theme park recently, the basketball great announced that he would be giving away a lot more than free roller-coaster rides.

Try free college.

The LeBron James Family Foundation has partnered with the University of Akron to offer four-year scholarships for students in its "I Promise" program, which aims to keep kids at risk of dropping out, many of them low-income students of color, enrolled through high school—and now college—graduation.

"This is one of the best things I've ever been a part of," James said, adding that he knows from his time growing up in a low-income neighborhood in Akron that "kids don't really grow up thinking beyond high school."

The scholarship could reportedly help more than 2,000 Akron kids earn a college degree. While the eligibility details for the scholarships are not yet fleshed out, the announcement is welcome news for Akron's young people and their families.

Students of color make up nearly 60 percent of Akron's 22,000 public-school students, yet they are disproportionately more likely to drop out of high school and less likely to graduate from college than their white peers.

James wants to change that, and to give more young people a shot at college.

"This is one of the best things I've ever been a part of." "“ LeBron James

Just one in five Akron residents holds a bachelor's degree or higher, and the high school graduation rate is below 85 percent. More than 27 percent of the city's population lives below the poverty level, 11 points higher than the state's 16 percent poverty rate.

While the Cleveland Cavaliers star didn't attend college himself, most students will never make it to the NBA. Studies have shown that college graduates earn more and are less likely to live in poverty. More jobs than ever are requiring degrees.

The "I Promise" program could also help the University of Akron increase the number of students of color it serves.

The city of Akron is nearly 32 percent black, but African-Americans make up only about 11 percent of the school's student body. Partnering with LeBron James to offer students scholarships might allow the university to work toward a less homogenous campus.

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