Since 1990, Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars Program has been leading the way in assisting eligible students to attend and graduate college by providing up to 100 percent of the four-year tuition at public state colleges or part of the tuition at private and independent colleges.
The impact of the program in Indiana is immense, with more than 50,000 students earning a degree or credential. Plus, more than 80 percent of students in the program enroll in college. That’s compared to 53 percent of all students statewide and 30 percent of students in the state from low-income backgrounds who are not in the program. Moreover, 75 percent of scholars stay in Indiana once they graduate.
At the same time, however, a recent report shows that about half of eligible students apply for the 21st Century Scholars Program. And a survey from the Indiana Department of Education found that awareness of the scholarship needs to be more consistent: just 64 percent of parents know about the 21st Century Scholars Program.
A newly passed bill may help increase awareness. The bill, HB 1449, automatically enrolls qualified low-income students in the program by the end of eighth grade.
Advocates say the automatic enrollment portion of the legislation will likely significantly impact families who may “fall through the cracks” when it comes to announcements about college promise programs such as 21st Century Scholars.
“The Commission has remained focused on increasing the college-going rate for low-income, Black and Hispanic and Latino students,” said Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Chris Lowery. “By allowing us to auto-enroll income-eligible students into the 21st Century Scholars program, roughly twice as many Hoosier students will have the opportunity to continue their education after high school. This equates to thousands of students accessing the hope that higher education provides. None of this would have been possible without the support from our higher education institutions and community partners such as Indiana University and the Indiana Black Expo.”
Indiana University – Making an Impact
Indiana University has a long history with the 21st Century Scholars Program, beginning more than 25 years ago under the visionary leadership of Stan Jones, the former commissioner at the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, and former Indiana Governor Even Bayh.
Since then, IU has developed supplementary scholarships to support 21st Century Scholars and families throughout Indiana, as well as academic resources, advisors and other tools to aid in students’ personal and professional development.
Today, all nine IU campuses have 21st Century Scholars. On the IU Bloomington campus, nearly 1 out of 5 undergraduate students are in this program, with more than 10,000 scholars having at one time called IUB their home. In 2022, IU Bloomington was recognized by Indiana’s Commission for Higher Education for having the highest four-year completion rate in the state.
“The 21st Century Scholar program has impacted me in a significant way,” said Amir Pierre-Louis, a junior studying community health at the School of Public Health, IU Bloomington. “I have been able to attend several career and professional developing events and I was able to achieve academic success with their help. I will forever be grateful for the opportunities the 21st Century Scholars program has presented me.”
A Unique Partnership
To further expose students and their parents/guardians to the 21st Century Scholars Program, Indiana University is once again joining forces with the Indiana Commission for Higher Education at the Indiana Black Expo Summer Celebration—one of the country’s largest African American cultural events—for this year’s exhibition on July 14-16 at the Indiana Convention Center.
Students can confirm enrollment at IU’s 21st Century Scholars booth, check and update their scholar status and fulfill Scholar Success Program requirements. Representatives from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education will be on hand to greet and support students throughout the process. They also can answer any questions that families who are newly enrolled in the program may have.
IU’s partnership with the Indiana Commission for Higher Education dates to 2016, with the two entities working side by side to support students and their families and prepare young people for the academic rigors of college.
The impact of IU’s unique partnership is significant-more than 800 students and families are supported each year at the IBE celebration.
This year, IU is ramping up its efforts to connect with and support students at the IBE with its “one-stop” 21st Century Scholars shop. This temporary storefront is designed to provide an opportunity to educate students and families about the 21st Century Scholars Program and help scholars complete the 9th-12th grade Scholars Success Program requirements.
For example, students and families not resourced to travel and complete in-person campus tours can visit any of IU’s nine campuses through virtual tours. This qualifies as a required activity in the 21st Century Scholars Program.
Students who lack internet access can complete the program's video portion requirement at the booth and immediately connect with representatives from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education to update their scholar status.
The shop will also offer several high impact, engaging activities for students, including demonstrations of physics in everyday life, quilling, Ozobots and more.
“Indiana University is a proud supporter of the Indiana Black Expo and the 21st Century Scholars event and has been for five decades,” says James Wimbush, IU's vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion. “This partnership provides an opportunity for Indiana University to engage with youth from across the state and represents an important part of our work to cultivate a learning environment that breaks down barriers for students in Indiana and beyond.”