The new school year will include new guidelines for a popular college financial aid program aimed at helping more low-income students achieve a brighter future.
New requirements have been developed for Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars program which provides funding to low-income students to obtain additional education after high school. Seventh- and eighth-graders who are eligible for free or reduced price meals at school are eligible to enroll. Scholars must graduate high school with a 2.5 or higher grade point average and stay away from drugs, alcohol and other criminal behavior. Scholarships, equivalent to public university tuition, then can be used to attend any public or private college or university in Indiana.
According to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education (ICHE), more than 100,000 students are enrolled – 15,000 in postsecondary education with the remainder in middle and high school. However, while Indiana has granted more than $200 million in 21st Century Scholarships in the last five years, too many Scholars still struggle to earn a postsecondary degree or credential.
Ninety percent of Scholars graduate from high school – higher than the state average of 88 percent – but only 13 percent of Scholars earn an associate degree in two years or a bachelor’s degree in four years, compared with the state average of 23 percent. Similarly, just 31 percent of Scholars earn a degree after an additional one or two years on campus, compared with the state average of 45 percent.
Starting this school year, ICHE is implementing the Scholar Success Program – 12 steps Scholars must complete in high school to earn the scholarship.
“We feel a sense of urgency to improve the success rates of 21st Century Scholars and make a great state program even stronger,” said Teresa Lubbers, Indiana commissioner for higher education. “We believe the new Scholar Success Program requirements will go a long way toward providing Scholars with added structure and support they need to stay on the path to college readiness and completion.”
The first requirements for high school freshmen include writing a graduation plan and completing a learning module on “Paying for College 101.” Freshmen also must be involved with an extracurricular or community service activity.
Diana Washington, a Scholars outreach coordinator who helps students enroll and remain eligible, described how positive activities outside of the classroom help students prepare for postsecondary success. “It’s about a cultural experience,” Washington said. “It’s about how do I communicate. How do I talk with individuals who I have never experienced before? How do I fit in? Those skills help me develop community when I’m on the postsecondary campus.”
Requirements during sophomore year include completing a career interest assessment, visiting a workplace and utilizing the Indiana College Cost Estimator (www.indianacollegecosts.org), which helps students compare their estimated costs for attending Indiana colleges or universities.
High school juniors will be required to make a college visit, take a college entrance exam (such as the SAT) and search for additional scholarships. According to Chris Enstrom, director of outreach, too many Scholars do not realize that they are still eligible for other financial aid including the federal Pell grant.
“That proves the point of why the Scholar Success Program is so valuable,” Enstrom explained. By learning about financial aid during freshman year and then searching for scholarships during junior year, “they’re going to learn about financial aid and all the different ways it works, so they’re not a senior in school and trying to scramble and figure out what they’re going to do and how to pay for what.”
As seniors, Scholars then must submit a college application, complete the learning session, “College Success 101,” and file the federal student aid form – the FAFSA.
Matt Fleck, a former Indiana Department of Education official who now advises schools and families on postsecondary financial aid, said the Scholar Success Program can help low-income students obtain more education leading to better jobs at higher wages.
“More employers are demanding a postsecondary education for their workforce,” Fleck said. “And people with a postsecondary education earn more money during their lifetime.”
You can help students succeed by volunteering to mentor (www.abetterhour.org) and by spreading the word about the Scholar Success Program through employers and community organizations (www.scholars.in.gov).
Bill Stanczykiewicz, former Anderson radio sports broadcaster, is president and chief executive officer of the Indiana Youth Institute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.