Attending college is at the heart of the American Dream, but for an increasing number of students that dream feels out of reach. After spending many years in the financial services sector, Kate Hoffman created Earn to Learn to give students every opportunity to achieve the dream of a college education. It’s also the reason she was named the 2020 Greater Tucson Leadership Alumni Excellence recipient.

Hoffman was struck by the challenge of college access and affordability as she went through the Greater Tucson Leadership (GTL) class of 2008. Taking part in the organization’s monthly issue days, she was inspired to help make college financially accessible to students and disrupt the cycle of poverty for those families.

“Many students come from families where college was never an option. Earn to Learn helps them see that college is possible.” – Kate Hoffman, Earn to Learn founder

Using the relationships she’d forged through GTL and sheer perseverance, Hoffman built partnerships with several local organizations and launched a first-of-its-kind college matched savings program. Hoffman collaborated with Arizona’s three public universities to launch Earn to Learn, the largest and most successful college matched-savings program in the country. Recently, Earn to Learn has expanded to serve students at Pima Community College and Maricopa Community College District.

Earn to Learn combines student savings with scholarships, financial education, and success coaching to help low- to moderate-income and diverse students obtain a college education and graduate ready to enter the workforce with little or no student loan debt. Students and their families who income-qualify save $500 each year. These funds are matched 8:1, bringing their total scholarship award to $4,500 per academic year to help offset the cost of attendance.

“Kate’s passion for creating a path for student success is a huge benefit for the region and for the state.” – Amber Smith, Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce president

Earn to Learn has impressive stats. Most significantly, Earn to Learn students on average are graduating with less than $5,000 in student debt, compared to the national average of more than $30,000. Students have saved and invested nearly $3M in their education and have earned an additional $24M in additional grant aid through the program’s 8:1 match. Earn to Learn has provided nearly 35,000 hours of personal finance training to approximately 5,000 students in Arizona. The projected 6-year graduation rate is approaching 80%. As a point of comparison, the national 6-year graduation rate for the Pell eligible target population is 39%, according to reports from the Department of Education.

“Kate has impacted thousands of students and their families. Her accomplishments show all of us that we can be change agents if we and have the passion to see it through.” – Adam Begody, Chamber senior account executive

While the bulk of Hoffman’s time is dedicated to Earn to Learn, she also makes time for her community. She’s served on the GTL Governing Board, the Tucson Hispanic Chamber Foundation Board, Tucson Values Teachers, and the Child and Family Resources Board, to name just a few. When asked about receiving the Alumni award, Hoffman was modest. “For me, this is a really exciting honor,” she said. “GTL has meant so much to me. I’m just honored and grateful to receive this award.”