Revamped 21st Century Scholars program sees historic automatic enrollment

Gov. Eric Holcomb and other members of the General Assembly hold a ceremonial signing of House Enrolled Act 1449, which automatically enrolls eligible students in the 21st Century Scholars program. (Photo provided)

By Sydney Byerly

TheStatehouseFile.com

August 31, 2023

More than 40,000 students were automatically enrolled in the 2027 cohort of the 21st Century Scholars program recently, doubling the number of those automatically enrolled in last year’s cohort.

The 33-year-old 21st Century Scholar program gives students from low-income backgrounds the opportunity to afford college in Indiana by paying up to 100% of tuition at public colleges and part of the tuition at private or independent colleges. But studies showed that many students missed the middle-school deadline to enroll.

Rep. Earl Harris, D-Lake County, proposed making enrollment automatic with House Enrolled Act 1449, which received bipartisan support and was signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb, who made it a goal of his Next Level Agenda.

Seventh- and eighth-grade students financially eligible for free and reduced-price school lunches are now automatically enrolled in the program. Parents and guardians of eligible students no longer have to complete an application for their student to participate. Students automatically enrolled will still need to meet all requirements to obtain the scholarship upon graduation.

“This legislation will ensure higher rates of equity for Hoosier students from all walks of life and help more Indiana students achieve a higher education and all the blessings that come with it,” Harris said.

“Helping students get enrolled in the 21st Century Scholars program will not just help individual students and their families, but the state as a whole by helping us build a skilled, 21st Century economy. This bill is a testament to the good that can happen when lawmakers work together for the benefit of their constituents, and I look forward to seeing the impacts of this bipartisan piece of legislation for generations to come.”

The Indiana Commission for Higher Education estimates that over 20,000 additional students will be enrolled in the program for each eighth-grade class.

“Indiana’s workforce depends on a skilled talent pipeline,” Holcomb said. “For over 30 years, the 21st Century Scholarship has played a transformative role in getting more Hoosiers prepared to enroll and succeed in college. Automatically enrolling income-eligible students into this life-changing program will lead to greater levels of educational attainment, stronger communities, and a globally competitive workforce.”

In the State of Higher Education Address earlier this year, ICHE Commissioner Chris Lowery spoke about the college-going rate for low-income students of color.

“The college-going rate for students from low-income households who are not part of the 21st Century Scholars program is 30 percent,” Lowery said. “When multiplied by their on-time college completion rate of 27 percent, those students have roughly an 8 percent likelihood of graduating from high school and completing college on time. For Black students, the likelihood is 10 percent, for Hispanic and Latino students, it’s 17 percent. This is unacceptable, and in my view, it is an emergency.”

Since the program’s creation, more than 50,000 students earned a college degree through the scholarship. The commission’s 2023 College Readiness Report shows that 81% of Scholars attended college in 2021 compared to 30% of their non-Scholar, low-income peers

Sydney Byerly is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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