21st Century Scholars Program using alumni, more outreach to connect with families

INDIANAPOLIS — Leroy Medrano never imagined going to college.

“It was a bit more of a dream, maybe even a fantasy if you will,” he said.

He is now a graduate of Purdue University, where he is also in graduate school.

“My parents didn’t finish high school, and so even that alone was an achievement for me,” Medrano said, “and then going to college, somewhere like Purdue, is really a dream come true. reality.”

Medrano, who studies audiology, never imagined a path like this. Coming from a low-income household, he says money was a huge barrier, especially when it came to considering college.

“I know my mom wanted to do everything she could for me, but even with her best and beyond, I knew she couldn’t send me to college,” he said. .

It wasn’t until college that Medrano first heard of the 21st Century Scholars Program, an opportunity that would later pave the way for Purdue.

Stories, like Medrano’s, are what the Indiana Commission on Higher Education hopes to help bring more attention to the impact of being a 21st century scholar.

“Sometimes we’re not the right messengers,” Indiana Commissioner of Higher Education Teresa Lubbers said. “Sometimes the idea that higher education or government is sending the message, they need someone closer to them. They need someone who is already a scholar, who said “I did this”. They need someone in their church to tell them, “Hey, you can take advantage of this program.”

This is part of the commission’s plan to expand the message, and who is delivering it, to attract more eligible families. Of about 40 percent of eligible families, Lubbers says only half actually enroll in the program, according to the latest report of the commission.

“You can’t enjoy the benefits of the 21st Century Scholars Program if you don’t apply to become a scholar. That’s our biggest challenge,” Lubbers said, “and then I think once we get there, we have to make sure that once they sign up, they meet all the expectations that are the.

Expectations begin with a promise as early as 7th and 8th grade. Eligible students commit to completing a series of requirements throughout high school and college, such as maintaining a 2.5 GPA, earning at least a Core 40 degree, and completing a series of university-specific programs.

Through these tasks, he motivates students to not only obtain, but also keep their scholarship, which includes up to 4 years of free tuition at a participating college or university in the state.

Lubbers says once students and families know college is affordable, it opens up a whole new realm of opportunity.

“We know that the big challenge and barrier for many Hoosier students and families is that they think it’s not affordable for them, and when they know it is, and when they’re prepared , they’re going,” Lubbers said.

The numbers also reflect this. The commission’s figures show that about 88% of qualified scholars go on to college right after high school, which is higher than the state average of nearly 60%.

Compared to their low-income peers, the commission figures also show that scholars are more likely to graduate from college on time, as completion rates are 17% higher.

“We really try to work with alumni of the 21st Century Scholars program, who say, you know, ‘I was a lot like you and I was an academic, and I went on and that’s what I got and that’ is where I am in life right now.’ So there doesn’t seem to be that disconnect, or that feeling of delayed gratification,” Lubbers said.

In addition to tapping into alumni, Lubbers says they are working to strengthen partnerships with schools, community groups and organizations and continue to raise awareness with families.

Medrano, who is about to complete his first year of graduate school, says it allowed him to unlock opportunities he didn’t know he had. That’s why he’s sharing his story, so other families can do the same for themselves.

“Going to school, college and high school, having a teacher or someone older with experiences who just believes in you and taking the time to be a bit of a mentor is a huge element,” did he declare.

“When I first heard about 21st Century program, I wasn’t even considering going to college, and it wasn’t until a teacher told my mom she could see me going to college and I never did think. Just that impact, that little conversation that this teacher had with my mom, really made me think, “Oh, maybe I can go.” he added.

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