The cost of higher education increases every year, leaving many with lingering debt they’ll carry well into their professional careers.

To help alleviate these future burdens, the Kenton County School District has expanded its effort at pinpointing scholarship opportunities for students.

“More and more of our students are able to afford college because of all of the scholarships offered,” says Dr. Terri Cox-Cruey, superintendent of Kenton County Schools. “We know our Kenton County district graduates are going to need post-secondary education, and financial scholarships help them achieve their career pathways.”

The Kenton County Class of 2014 earned more than $14.1 million in scholarships. At Dixie Heights High School, the 272 graduates netted more than half the total with $7.16 million. The Dixie Heights total was a $1.5 million increase from 2013 and a $2.9 million increase from 2012. At Simon Kenton High School, 2014 graduates earned $5.8 million in scholarships, while seniors at Scott High School earned $1.8 million.

“We know now more than ever that students and parents are aware of debt,” says Malina Owens, director of secondary education for Kenton County Schools.

Owens says the staff at Kenton County begins reinforcing the importance of higher education and potential avenues for financing it beginning in eighth grade.

“We begin these conversations [with our eighth graders] on what courses to take in high school, why it is important to be involved in activities beyond the classroom, and also the financial options that are available to students for college,” she says.

Academic, athletic, military and community-based scholarships are just a few of the sources where Owen’s says students have found success.

In 2014, the Kenton County senior class had 33 students attend the Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program. The highly competitive program includes a five-week course during the summer between junior and senior year, and immerses students in several areas of cocurricular study. With more than a 1,000 high school students participating throughout three college campuses, many Commonwealth universities take note of the accomplishment and offer plenty of money for education in return.

“It’s based on leadership, community services, academics. It’s everything colleges look for when it comes to offering scholarships,” says Owens.

One hundred percent of the Kenton County students who applied at the state level for the 2014 Governor’s Scholarship were accepted. By getting students involved in activities, such as sports, drama, or volunteer work, the opportunity for college money increases.

Whether it’s searching online or working with universities, Kenton County Schools has dedicated itself to making the path to higher education as least taxing as possible.

“This is something we’re constantly promoting, and this is something we’re constantly building on,” she says. “We keep pushing harder and harder every year.”