Students have more hoops to jump through to obtain 21st Century Scholars Program tuition dollars, but it will be worth it.
The most significant change is that all 21st Century Scholars who start high school this fall will be required to complete the new Scholar Success Program by graduation in order to qualify for their scholarships. This program is designed to ensure that students understand and complete specific steps required to access and succeed in college.
Ninety percent of the students who sign up for the program graduate from high school and nearly 90 percent of those enter college, better than the state’s 67 percent of all high school students, reported Brianna Morse, Indiana Commission for Higher Education 21st Century Scholars Southeast Indiana outreach coordinator, Columbus.
Yet just 23 percent earn an associate or bachelor’s degree on time. “A lot of students are going to take five years to get their degree, sometimes six,” said the Indianapolis woman at the July 17 Indiana Youth Institute Youth Worker Café at Ivy Tech Community College, Batesville. The problem is 21st Century Scholars financial aid runs out after four years and when that stops, some drop out of college. Morse emphasized state officials want to see that 23 percent rise – a lot.
Students enroll in the program in seventh or eighth grade. “You must sign up no later than June 30 at the end of your eighth-grade year,” according to Morse. “We just launched our online application today.” There is one exception to the deadline. Students in foster care may enroll later, in high school, and some requirements could be waived.
The middle-schoolers’ families must be income-eligible. Income requirements are listed on the Web site Scholars.IN.gov. “Generally speaking, if you qualify for the free and reduced lunch program,” the student can become a Scholar, but he or she must enroll.
Students who fulfill the Scholar Pledge earn up to four years of paid tuition at public Indiana colleges. The scholarship doesn’t cover the cost of room, board and books. Purdue and Indiana universities have grants to help with those expenses, she said.
If a teen chooses, say, the private Notre Dame University, he or she would have to pay the difference in tuition, perhaps around $30,000 annually.
If income increases between eighth grade and senior year (for instance, “Mom and Dad hit the lottery”), the Scholar will probably not receive the full tuition. Some may get $2,500 one-time scholarships.
To get all tuition dollars annually, a Scholar in college must take 30 credit hours each year, including summer classes. To get ahead of the curve and partially avoid heavy college course loads, Morse urges, “Take AP classes, take dual credit (in high school). Do it if you can.” If the students don’t complete those credit hours, they will see a decrease in funding the following year.
The Legislature has made two changes to the program. The high school GPA requirement has been raised to 2.5, up from 2.0, and students must earn Core 40 diplomas.
The aim of the Scholars Pledge is “to do well in high school and have a plan” to be successful in college. At the end of eighth grade, participants promise to accomplish the fresh GPA and Core 40 requirements plus four more: complete the Scholar Success Program; apply for college admission and financial aid on time as a senior; do not use illegal drugs and alcohol; and do not commit a crime or delinquent act.
The Scholar Success Program has steps for students to follow each high school year to plan, prepare and pay for college:
• Freshmen – graduation plan, extracurricular or service activity, Paying for College 101 Webinar
• Sophomores – career interest assessment, workplace experience (a part-time job or job shadowing to explore career options), cost estimator to compare colleges
• Juniors – college campus visit, college entrance exam (such as ACT, SAT or military), scholarship search
• Seniors – college application, College Success 101 Webinar, Free Application for Federal Student Aid filing.
The coordinator discussed details with eight attendees. “We work fairly well with Work One,” which uses Indiana Career Explorer as an assessment that suggests careers “you don’t even know exist.”
21st Century Scholars Program leaders have always pushed Scholars to visit universities in person “so that they’re really finding the right fit.” This year they will organize eight days of tours on different campuses.
Jerry Bennett, Batesville, wondered how his two grandkids who are enrolled in the program will know when and how to follow the Scholar Success Program steps. Morse answered, “There is a (ScholarTrack) online form. Everybody will get a mailing” about SSP. “If they don’t report that they’ve done things, we’ll follow up” with e-mail reminders. “There is some wiggle room.” For instance, an assessment can be taken early or a college visit can happen later than expected.
Searching for scholarships is an important component of the program. One speaker challenged students to apply for 40. To help the process, Morse suggested writing a college essay ahead of crunch time. Most applications are due in the fall of the student’s senior year.
The FAFSA, needed by universities to determine how much financial aid a student should receive, is always due March 10. The speaker lamented, “Every year I have a lot of students who don’t” meet that deadline and miss out on needed money.
Help from 21st Century Scholars officials doesn’t end at high school graduation. “We’re doing a lot of different programs now once they get to the college level” to keep students from dropping out. On Indiana’s 15 largest campuses, young Americorps workers tutor and mentor Scholars, even to the point of showing them how to do laundry if needed. Younger Scholars can be paired with juniors or seniors going through the program to get questions answered.
Debbie Blank can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.
HUMAN RESOURCES • The state has been divided into eight 21st Century Scholars outreach regions. Outreach coordinators can provide details and answer questions. • The Southeast Region is comprised of Ripley, Decatur and 12 other counties: Brianna Morse, email@example.com or 317-617-0329. • The East Region is comprised of Franklin, Rush and 12 other counties: Miranda Scully, firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-617-0249. Info: 888-528-4719 or Scholars.IN.gov.