The Journal Gazette
Thursday, January 13, 2022 1:00 am

21st Century Scholars program smart choice for eligible Hoosiers

Teresa Lubbers

As high school seniors prepare for graduation, nearly one in 10 who will cross the stage will be a21st Century Scholar. Of those, nearly 90% will continue their education at a college or university.

Many more students, however, could be following that path – with their tuition paid for by the state.

The 21st Century Scholars program provides income-eligible Hoosiers up to four years of paid tuition at a participating Indiana college or university. It's a promise to students that college can be an option for everyone.

Since its creation in 1990, the program has significantly improved Indiana's education attainment with more than 45,000 Hoosiers earning a college degree with the scholarship. In fact, Scholars are the only group to close the college-going achievement gap across all races and ethnicities. The Scholar Success Program also ensures students are prepared when they arrive.

Testimonials from alumni share how the scholarship allowed them to graduate with little to no debt, pursue an advanced degree and secure gainful employment. While the scholarship has been significant for more than three decades, our biggest challenge – awareness and participation – remains.

According to the report recently released by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, 40% of middle school and high school students are financially eligible. However, of that 40%, only about half enroll. Eligible students are leaving this life-changing scholarship on the table by missing the enrollment period.

We recognize the commission and our eight outreach coordinators cannot contact every student. We also understand that different messengers resonate with different students and families.

Just as there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to helping students find the right educational pathways, there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to promoting the program. We must lean on the right messengers to meet our students and families where they are and help them enroll.

The commission already partners with several organizations, including the Starfish Initiative, Indiana Black Expo, Indiana Latino Institute, Indy Achieves, Indianapolis Urban League, Center for Leadership Development, the Community Foundation of St. Joseph County and others to reach students and families around the state. Additionally, our Padres Estrellas connect with Hispanic and Latino families to increase enrollment.

But we know there is additional outreach to be done.

That's why we're calling those who are in contact with seventh- or eighth-grade students or their parents to inform them not only of the 21st Century Scholars program, but the benefits of education beyond high school. Higher education is one of the best ways to achieve greater economic opportunity and personal prosperity, and the 21st Century Scholarship is the state's best resource to make pursuing higher education affordable.

If you're an alum, you're the program's biggest influencer. You're a testament of the power of the program. I urge you to share your story of how the program affected you personally and/or professionally. Your success may be what resonates with students of today and tomorrow.

While it isn't the silver bullet, 21st Century Scholars is one of Indiana's best tools in the state's quest to close equity and achievement gaps. Join us in getting more eligible seventh- and eighth-grade students enrolled.

Teresa Lubbers is the Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education and chair of the Governor's Workforce Cabinet.

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