When Hershey and his wife could not have children, they wanted to be able to share their success and money with those less fortunate. They opened the high school to help white boys who were orphans or came from broken homes. The school later opened its doors to black boys and eventually to girls.
The school's ciriculum was intended to prepare the children for a successful life and included chores and working on a farm in addition to classwork. The school provided room and board as well. All of this was given free to eligible children who met the school's criteria. Later the school had a number of policy changes. They removed the trade preparation and introduced grade requirements for admission.
In 2002 there were protests by unhappy alumni who were concerned with the school's direction and faithfulness to the desires of Milton Hershey. They were opposed to the grade requirements that were placed on incoming students by those running the school. They claimed that this excluded those children that Hershey was originally intending to help: those who had nothing and really needed help. Protestors also complained that the school was turning into a college prep school and that there was not enough focus on learning trades like Hershey had intended. The school cited a need to adapt to changing times. Their protests seemed to work and the school agreed to drop the grade requirement for the next school year.
The school is financed by the trust set up to manage the money left over by Milton Hershey. The trust controls a majority of the voting shares in Hershey Foods Corporation and 100% control of the rest of Hershey's company, including Hershey Park. Hershey mandated in his will that the money from the company can only be spent directly on the students or indirectly for their benefit. Because of this the school has a huge campus with modern equipment including computers. With the trust fund worth billions of dollars, the school can spend approximately $250 million each year. The amount is so much that even with the extravagant buildings, equipment and living quarters, the school has trouble spending it all.