The city of Indianapolis hopes to drastically increase the number of local students who participate in existing state and federal college scholarship and grant programs—as well as pay for some of the other costs that prevent people from staying in college and successfully earning a degree.
Mayor Joe Hogsett on Tuesday afternoon plans to unveil an initiative called Indy Achieves, intended to support students across Indianapolis’ 11 school districts. The goal is to increase enrollment in the state’s 21st Century Scholars program and the Higher Education Award program, and to get more students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, which can connect them with more funding.
The initiative will fund $1.5 million in scholarships annually to certain IUPUI and Ivy Tech Community College students to help defray costs of college even for those who received scholarship money, and provide funds for some of the students who are on the verge of dropping out of college because of financial limitations.
In the first year, the funding is expected to help an estimated 1,600 students in total at both institutions, with 400 receiving small scholarships to defray costs and 1,200 receiving “completion” grants to keep them from dropping out.
The goal is to, bit by bit, increase the certificate and college degree attainment rate in Marion County to 65 percent by 2027—which would be a more than 20 percentage point increase if the Hogsett administration can meet the goal.
Hogsett’s administration's goal during the first five years of the program is to get an additional 30,000 eighth-graders enrolled in 21st Century Scholars, an additional 60,000 high school seniors completing the FAFSA on time, have 1,500 students receive scholarships at IUPUI and Ivy Tech, and have 3,500 students at those institution receive completion grants.
The initiative comes from a Hogsett pledge in 2017 that the city would launch something called the "Indianapolis Promise,” which aimed to enroll more local teens in college and post-secondary programs.
Hogsett in his 2017 state of the city speech said “we fail our most vulnerable students and their families” by not ensuring that 100 percent of eligible eighth-graders sign up for the state’s popular 21st Century Scholars program, which provides college scholarships.
“If we do this, we can make real progress in addressing the cycle of generational poverty that has gripped our city and ensure that Indianapolis will continue to be economically competitive for decades to come,” Hogsett said at the time.
But city leaders said after studying existing promise programs nationwide, they realized they wanted to not just help students get to college—but decrease barriers that keep them from completing their degrees and connecting with the labor market.
“It really is not just about access, but about success and workforce alignment,” said Democratic City-County Council member Blake Johnson. “This will be truly transformative for the city.”
The initiative will also focus on adults that are already out in the workforce but don’t have certificates or degrees.
Mackenzie Higgins, project manager for the mayor’s office, said the Indianapolis job market is placing a lot more value on people with degrees and credentials than those without, and the result is that for “individuals who don’t have the requisite attainment levels, their job prospects are pretty limited.”
The city hopes to see a 3 percent increase in the college-going rate of Indianapolis adults by increasing awareness of existing grant programs like the state’s workforce ready grants and adult student grants.
Chief of staff Thomas Cook said the city in its next budget would hope to appropriate $2 million to the city’s Office of Education Innovation to fund the program through a contract with EmployIndy, the city’s workforce development agency.
The public funds will be used exclusively for scholarships—and 25 percent of the appropriation each year will be set aside for reserves to make sure the program can continue in perpetuity.
A new staff of about six people from EmployIndy that will carry out the work and lead the sign-up efforts would be funded through fees that both IUPUI and Ivy Tech would pay to the city for each student who receives a college-completion grant.
Cook said the universities will essentially pay back a dollar-for-dollar match, something they’re incentivized to do because it is more cost-effective for them to keep students enrolled.
Cook also said the city’s new completion grants will also be an attractive place to engage local employers who are desperate for workers. For instance, if a company were to fund someone’s completion grant, they could get connected to the student and learn about work opportunities at that specific company, Cook said.
“This model is going to be very appealing to the philanthropic community,” Cook said.