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Don’t lower scholarship hurdles

June 11, 2016

The 21st Century Scholars program is a key part of a larger state strategy to boost the number of people in Indiana with a college degree. More than 70,000 students have taken advantage of the 25-year-old program, which provides four years of full-tuition scholarships to low-income students who meet academic and behavioral requirements.

But changes in the program have raised concerns about whether fewer students will complete all the requirements necessary to qualify for aid. Those modifications—among them requirements that students visit a college campus and take a career-interest assessment—are meant to ensure students are better prepared for college.

According to a report from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, only about 20 percent of the 17,782 students signed up for the 21st Century Scholars program in the class of 2017 are on track to complete the requirements needed to earn the assistance. And in Marion County, only about 15 percent of students are on track.

State officials now are rallying to boost those numbers. The commission plans educational events on 30 college campuses, has mailed reminder cards to students, and has granted $34,000 to schools and community partners to help students complete the requirements.

IBJ commends state officials for taking decisive steps to help students qualify for aid, without which many graduates will not be able to attend college. Schools and especially parents also must be involved in encouraging students to complete the requirements. And, of course, students must be accountable for their futures.

Most important, with pressure mounting, state officials must resist doing away with these new requirements—even if fewer students qualify for the scholarships. That doesn’t mean the state can’t be generous in trying to help students in the class of 2017, who are the first to deal with the changes. There may be reasons to move deadlines, for example. But those accommodations should be modest and temporary.

IBJ supports the overall changes to 21st Century Scholars. They are common-sense measures that should help students choose the best college, select an appropriate major, and graduate with as little debt as possible.

And they are necessary.

Consider that only about one-third of Indiana college students complete their degrees on time, which means four years for a bachelor’s degree. For 21st Century Scholars, the percentage is roughly half that: Only about 17 percent of students who receive that state aid finish college on time and only about 60 percent of 21st Century Scholars finish a four-year degree within eight years.

The state owes scholarship recipients and taxpayers—who spend $175 million annually on the program—their best attempt at ensuring students succeed once they get to college. The recent changes should help accomplish that, and Indiana should stick with them.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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