The General Assembly reconvened Tuesday, with many legislators saying education is their main focus for the 2015 session. While much of the attention will be on K-12 policies, the 21st Century Scholarship program will dominate the discussion around higher education.
The 27,000 students enrolled in the program is more than double previous groups, meaning there will not be enough money for every student’s scholarship needs.
The 21st Century Scholarship program is a promise scholarship of sorts, enrolling low-income students during seventh and eighth grade and guaranteeing them money for college if they maintain a 2.5 GPA and stay out of legal trouble while in high school, among other requirements.
The program’s been around for more than 20 years and worked with more 54,000 students, but in the last year it has outgrown its current budget. The Commission for Higher Education presented its budget in late December, asking for an almost $90 million increase for the next two years.
State Senator Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, is the Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and says even with the other education priorities on the agenda for this budget session, funding this scholarship helps the state’s goal of 60 percent of high school graduates getting some sort of postsecondary degree or certificate.
“The people who qualify for the 21st Century Scholarship programs are one of our best target groups,” Kenley says. “Quite often they are the first person in their family to go to college, and that’s exactly who we want to see getting these opportunities if they proven that they have the ability to make it.”
Kenley says if the legislature doesn’t increase new money to the program, they will have to take funds from other state funded scholarships like the Frank O’Bannon grant.
“I don’t want to reduce any of these assistance programs because of the importance of getting people to college and having some financial support if we can afford to do it as a state,” Kenley says.
Kenley says until the legislature begins making specific decisions about funding for this session, where the money for the program will come from is not known.