Sun Life Financial is announcing the new Sun Life Rising Star Awards program, through will it will provide more than $1 million in grants, scholarships and financial education to thousands of at-risk youth and the non-profit organizations that work on their behalf. The program recognizes high school students who are committed to furthering their education.

In its initial pilot, the program will launch in six cities: Detroit, San Diego, New York, Seattle, Miami/South Florida and Boston. In each city, up to three non-profit organizations and three students will be awarded grants/scholarships, except Miami, where four organizations and four students will be selected.

“As Sun Life Financial, we believe that improving educational opportunities for our nation’s youth is a top priority, which is why we are making an investment in the lives of exceptional students and the organizations that work tirelessly on their behalf,” said Wes Thompson, president of Sun Life Financial. “According to the U.S. Department of Education, 40% more students drop out of college due to money issues than academic failure.”

In the U.S., nearly 30% of students do not graduate from high school, and even with a diploma, only half of graduates leave high school prepared to succeed in college, career and life.

A Sun Life-commissioned survey found that 89% of parents expect their children will go to college, but only 50% of those parents have spent any time researching college costs. Thirty-two percent of parents expect their child will qualify for a scholarship, but, in reality, only 25% of college costs are covered by scholarships and grants.

Only 62% of parents have saved for their child’s college education, and 61% think it will be extremely or somewhat difficult for their children to remain in and graduate from college due to financial constraints.

Sun Life believes these perceived unrealistic expectations of how college will be financed, paired with a lack of understanding of how much college really costs, combine to set the stage for students dropping out of college due to financial hardship.

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