By Carmen M. Woodson-Wray, Gary Crusader
According to newly released state data, the vast majority of incoming high school seniors who could qualify for a state-funded scholarship are running the risk of losing out on the assistance that covers up to four years of college tuition.
In Lake County alone more than 70% of eligible candidates for the Evan Bayh 21st Century Scholars Program have not applied and an average of 74 percent of high school senior scholars are at risk of losing eligibility because they are not in compliance with the new mandated grade level requirements.
The Indiana Commission of Higher Education is working diligently to address the large number of students falling behind on the program’s mandates. Although, state officials are working on making students aware of the new requirements, I am afraid that it will not be enough to service the large numbers of students we have in Lake County.
Given the fact that the 2017 graduating class is the first group of scholars that must complete 12 grade level tasks, including creating a graduation plan, visiting a college campus and participating in a service activity. In exchange, those students can receive as much as four years of tuition at an Indiana public university, or a comparable amount to what a public school costs to attend a private school. If we do nothing, many of our students in Lake County will not be able to take advantage of this life changing opportunity.
In an effort to address the devastating trend facing our scholars the Institute for Leadership and Performance Improvement (ILPI) initiated a call to convene college outreach programs and nonprofit organizations that service Lake County to form the Northwest Indiana College Success Coalition to take on the challenge. The College Success Coalition will target 6-12th graders throughout Lake County.
Dr. Marlon R. Mitchell, President of Ivy Tech Campus said, “Our effort will operate from October 2016 to June 2017 at strategically located venues in the community. We will host nine, 90 minute sessions (one/month) for parents and students. Sessions will 1) briefly introduce the 21st Century Scholars Success Program (facilitated by Scholar Coordinators), 2) re-introduce federal TRiO Programs (Upward Bound and Educational Talent Search) and mentoring/tutoring programs and ex- plain how our program will assist them in completing the requirements of the Scholar Success Program(SSP), and 3) provide the opportunity to access 21st Century Scholar online resources which includes SSP. Parents will be invited to Scholar Success Days. We will facilitate enrollment and Scholar Track workshops at college and neighborhood school labs equipped with computers and internet access.”
The Evan Bayh 21st Century Scholars program became a model scholarship program for our nation when it was established in 1990. Since that time well over 70,000 students have taken advantage of the scholarship and nearly 30,000 low income students have earned a college degree. Today, more than 110,000 students are enrolled in the program and according to trend data many of them will become at risk of losing eligibility because of a failure to meet the Scholar Success Program (SSP) requirements. Nearly 80 percent of graduating seniors, or roughly 14,000 students, are behind on meeting new requirements for the state’s 21st Century Scholars program.
The new changes to the Evan Bayh 21st Century Scholars program are meant to better prepare students with college- and career-readiness skills and experiences students need to have before they graduate high school. In fact, such exposure will help students in high school, college and beyond. This program is one of the keys to the future growth of a highly educated and skilled workforce in Lake County. We cannot let this opportunity pass our students by.