A state-run program that provides scholarships for more than 100,000 in-state students in Indiana is making changes to its requirements in hopes of increasing college completion among its participants.
About 50 educators and youth workers gathered Tuesday at Sherwood Oaks Christian Church in Bloomington to learn about the new requirements for Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars Program.
The program provides resources and scholarship funds for students from low-income backgrounds. Students must enroll in the program by their 8th grade year and receive a variety of resources, including free tutoring, mentoring, part-time jobs, and scholarship money for in-state public and private universities, to help them succeed in high school and college.
Changes to the program taking effect this school year require students to report online when they complete tasks such as filling out financial aid applications and participating in community service projects. It also allows guidance counselors and community agencies to access that report and keep track of students in the program.
Barbie Martin, outreach coordinator for 21st Century Scholars southwest region, explained the changes at Sherwood Oaks. She says they are designed to educate students about the college experience and to make them more responsible for their success in the program and beyond.
“These changes I understand are very confusing, but we have so many agencies, especially in this area, that are working really well together to make sure these students have what they need to be able to complete the program and succeed,” she says. “So I think there are always a few bumps in the road, but I think it’s going to be very successful.”
The changes are being implemented because of a 2009 study by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education that found while 21st Century Scholars attend college at higher rates than other low-income students, they do not complete college as often or as quickly as other students.
“Moving now, not just with our program, but nationally, is more about college retention and college completion,” Martin says. “It’s not just a problem for our program but also nationwide. Students just aren’t completing college at the rates that we’d like. So with this program now, we’re looking at getting them through hopefully in four years, but certainly in six.”
John Livingston, Bloomington High School South counselor, says even without the changes, the 21st Century Scholars Program has benefited his students.
“Knowing that there is an opportunity for them to go to college and have that college paid for, I think, is a motivator for students to do well in high school so that they can take advantage of it,” he says.