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New Law Prepares Hoosier Students for Success After High School

by Tami Silverman, President & CEO of Indiana Youth Institute


A new law makes it easier for students to take advantage of Indiana’s highly acclaimed 21st Century Scholars Program. Effective July 1, any eligible student will be automatically enrolled, removing prior barriers to program access. This was one of the legislative session’s most popular bills and it passed with almost unanimous approval.

The 21st Century Scholars Program includes up to four years of tuition and fees for students who attend a public college or university. At private universities, the Program funds tuition at a rate comparable to the average tuition and fees of IU Bloomington or Purdue West Lafayette, leaving students to pay a much lower amount of tuition. Participating higher education institutions include all campuses within the IU, Purdue, and Ivy Tech systems, as well as Indiana State, Vincennes, and Ball State universities, and the University of Southern Indiana. Private colleges that take part include Notre Dame, the University of Indianapolis, and Butler University. Many public and private schools also wrap additional support dollars around the participating students.

The new law relies on coordination between the Indiana Commission for Higher Education (CHE) and the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) to identify all qualifying students.  Students and parents will be notified of their eligibility, students must agree to the conditions required to participate in the program, and the student can elect to opt out of the program at any time. Other requirements such as residency and maintaining a minimum GPA remain unchanged.

It’s important to note that when we talk about higher education or “college” we are referencing credentials, certificates, associate’s degrees, and bachelor’s degrees. Our state needs more students to be fully prepared for the jobs and economy of the future. The benefits of education beyond high school are significant and well-documented. According to CHE, students who earn a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent realize a variety of benefits including increased lifetime earnings, lower unemployment rates, higher labor force participation rates, and better overall health outcomes including but not limited to lower infant mortality rates and an average of 12 years increased life expectancy.

Increased access to and utilization of the 21st Century Scholars Program is one of the most promising ways to reverse a concerning trend in the state’s college-going rates. In 2020, the most recent year for which data is available, the state’s college-going rate dropped to 53% of all graduating students, a decline from 65% in 2015. In contrast, the outcomes for students in the Scholars program show a different trend, including:

  1. In 2021, 21st Century Scholars were more likely to enter college immediately after high school (81%) than all Indiana students (53%).
  2. 21st Century Scholars are more likely to complete college on time (39.3%) than non-Scholar low-income students (27.4%), but less likely than all Indiana students (50.8%).
  3. 21st Century Scholars were more likely to persist to the second year than non-Scholar low-income students (77.5%) and all Indiana students (80.8%).

Most recently, students had to sign up for the 21st Century Scholars program in middle school. While enrollment rates varied significantly across counties, statewide, about 48% of eligible students enrolled in the program last year. The new law hopes to reduce the barriers to education beyond high school, especially for students facing the greatest financial challenges.

There’s no doubt that automatic enrollment is an exciting advancement. We can now shift our attention to ensuring that all 21st Century Scholar enrollees have the support they need to maintain their eligibility and persist through college.

The Scholar Success Program outlines steps that are intended to help program participants prepare for success beyond high school. The annually required activities are outlined and accessible online.

Source: LearnMoreIndiana.org

Educators, youth-serving professionals, and families can all work together to walk students through these, and more, college and career readiness activities. Rather than simply check boxes they can be incorporated into college and career aspiration building blocks, showing our children that we both care about and believe in them.

Kids will be going back to school in just a few weeks, and there’s a new law on the books that holds promise to help build future success for many of them. Let’s honor and celebrate this law’s potential by committing to keep the momentum going, working together to help all Hoosier students build success through education beyond high school.




About the Indiana Youth Institute :

For over three decades, Indiana Youth Institute (IYI) has supported the youth services field through innovative trainings’, critical data, and capacity-building resources, aiming every effort at increasing the well-being of all children. To learn more about IYI, visit www.iyi.org, follow us on Facebook or Twitter.



What is the 21st Century Scholar Program?

The 21st Century Scholars program is a scholarship that provides the opportunity for Indiana students to afford college in Indiana. The 21st Century Scholarship will pay up to 100% of public college tuition in Indiana and part of the tuition at private or independent colleges. Colleges must participate in the program for students to utilize the scholarship, and students must enroll and maintain eligibility throughout high school and college. To qualify for the scholarship, a student must:

  • Be an Indiana resident
  • Be enrolled in the 7th or 8th grade and complete the application during this time
  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen
  • Be a member of a family that meets income eligibility requirements


Once a student has applied and is determined to be eligible for the 21st Century Scholarship, they must maintain eligibility by continuing to meet the income requirements, maintain a grade point average (GPA) of at least 2.5 out 4 and earn at least a Core 40 diploma.