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promises middle school students who qualify for the federal
school lunch program eight semesters of full tuition at an
Indiana public college or university, or a like amount at one of
the state’s private schools. All the students must do is sign up,
maintain a C average in high school, and stay out of trouble.
Indiana was the first state to create such a program.
According to the State Student Assistance Commission
of Indiana, about half of the students who have signed up in
middle school have stayed the program’s course through high
school. Of those, roughly nine out of ten have gone on to
college, where their numbers have grown from 1,442 in 1995-
96, the year the first of themwere freshmen, to 8,228 in the
2004-05 school year. The commission has just begun to collect
data on howmany have graduated.
One of the successes is Ron Adams, 22, of Hammond,
Indiana, who expects to get his bachelor’s degree in
organizational leadership and supervision inMay from the
combined campus of Indiana and Purdue universities in
Indianapolis (IUPUI). The oldest of four children whose single
mother works as a teaching assistant in
a Head Start program, Adams credits
her for always being “big on going
to college.” All four of her children
got the message. Adams’ younger
siblings include a sister at Indiana State
University in Terre Haute, a brother
getting ready to graduate fromhigh
school and attend IUPUI, and a sister
who is a high school sophomore. All are in the 21st Century
Scholars pipeline.
As much as possible, Adams says, he has tried to be a role
model for the younger ones, talking up his positive college
experiences and never sharing his difficulties, like his struggle
as a freshman to get up to speed on a perplexing new computer
system. Adams laments that none of his high school friends
took advantage of the Scholars program, or went to college at
all. Many of his college friends whomight have been eligible
didn’t sign up, either.
As the Scholars have grown in numbers, so have the state’s
grants to them. Last year these totaled $17.1 million out of a
total grants budget of $161 million, an amount that itself had
nearly doubled in seven years.
Those have included some rough budget years for a state
that is anything but flush withmoney, yet year after year it
has sweetened the grants pot. So how does the assistance
commission get so lucky? InterimExecutive Director Dennis
Obergfell smiles when he hears again a question he says he
gets a lot fromhis peers in other, less bountiful states. “We’ve
been fortunate,” he said, in having a succession of supportive
legislators and governors, of both political parties, who believe
in the commission’s mission.
Nick Vesper, the commission’s policy and research director,
makes the process sound easy: “We figure what we need in
order tomeet student need and then go to the legislature and
ask for the money, and they’ve been giving it to us.”This year’s
maximum awards are up ten percent from last year’s—to
$5,172 for state colleges and $10,014 for in-state private ones.
Those grants that give Indiana students the means to go to
college are indexed now to a college-prep high school diploma
that came about in 1994 and was designed to ensure that
students arrive on campus at least somewhat prepared to do
college work. This program is called Core 40, for the minimum
number of semester
credits it requires,
among them eight
of English, six of
mathematics, six
of science and six
of social studies.
By taking specific
additional credits
andmeeting certain
academic standards
students can earn
the diploma with
“academic honors.”
With that they
qualify for 20 percent more need-based aid than students
without Core 40 diplomas.
Last year the legislature upped the academic ante on
all of the state’s students by making Core 40 the standard
not only for admission to Indiana’s public universities but
also—beginning with the class of 2011, this year’s seventh
graders—for graduation from the state’s public high schools.
High school students will be able to opt out of the curriculum
only with parental permission. Indianapolis Public Schools,
the state’s largest district, with 39,000 students, has set a goal of
graduating all students with some kind of Core 40 diploma by
2011.
John DeBoe, principal of the city’s Crispus Attucks Middle
School, says he has detected “resistance and anxiety” about
that high aim, especially on the part of parents, who fear their
children will drop out of school rather than risk failure on the
Core 40 track.
Stan Jones, Indiana higher education commissioner, and Suellen Reed, the state’s
superintendent of public instruction, have worked together on reforms in Indiana
postsecondary education, including creation of the state’s first community college
system.
For Indiana, community
college is a whole new
concept, something the
state never had before.
As recently as the early
1990s, the state’s
higher education
system was behind
the national curve
in attracting and
graduating students.