IU expands recruiting efforts for 21st Century Scholars program
Editor's note: This story from The Bloomington Herald-Times is being published here as a courtesy for readers of IU in the News.
By MJ Slaby
It gave Precious McMillon a chance to relax.
As a 21st Century Scholar, McMillon didn’t have to worry about how she would pay tuition at Indiana University.
“It really made it easy,” she said.
Before she graduated this May, McMillon was one of nearly 3,000 undergraduates who were 21st Century Scholars on the IU Bloomington campus in the 2013-14 academic year. For 2014-15, an estimated 600 freshmen came to campus as members of the program.
“That’s a typical number,” said Jim Gibson, director of the 21st Century Scholars program at IU.
The program has grown by 90 percent on the Bloomington campus in the past seven years, according to IU data.
And for the first time this year, IU plans to be a part of recruiting scholars.
The program is funded by the state’s general fund and asks low-income students in Indiana to enroll by the end of June following their eighth-grade year. Students must meet certain academic and other requirements to receive up to four years of undergraduate tuition at a participating public college or university in the state.
“Something we are doing this year is, I will be on the road some to areas where there could be 21st Century Scholars,” Gibson said. He said those areas include the Indianapolis area as well as northwestern and northeastern portions of the state, all of which have high numbers for the program.
He said his focus will be on reaching the parents of junior high students to tell them there is a way to have their child’s college education paid for.
“I want them to get excited, and of course, hope they remember IU Bloomington,” Gibson said.
McMillon said she was living with her grandmother when they found out about the program, and McMillon, a first-generation college student, signed up.
“If I get to go to undergrad for free, I’m going,” said the Evansville native.
After graduating with a degree in Spanish, McMillon took a one-year AmeriCorps position as a support specialist for the program at IU. She said she hopes to return to school and become a tenure track professor one day.
Gibson said the state office for the program has regional outreach coordinators, but it is limited in resources for recruiting.
Chris Enstrom, state director of outreach, agreed. He said he doesn’t know of any other college that is helping with recruiting like IU.
“We need all the help we can get,” Enstrom said. He said the program relies on community leaders not only to start students in the program pipeline, but to help students stay in the program through college.
To participate in the program, which was started in 1990, students must meet not only program requirements, but also admission standards to their school of choice.
“Truly, they are scholars,” Gibson said.
And he credits an IU-only 21st Century Scholarship Covenant, which helps pay for books and living expenses, as well as the community feel of the office and related programs for the strength of the IU program.
The scholars can participate in mentoring, attend sessions about managing finances and living off-campus, and have their questions answered about academics and college life, Gibson said.
He said the program also plans to start a parent advisory group for input from families -- many of whom have several children in the program.
Sophomore Juan Quiroz is the youngest of six kids in a family from Hammond, and although he’s the only one of his siblings in the program, he said it was his brother’s idea for him to apply.
Quiroz said with so many kids in the family, it was important for him to have a scholarship to afford school. And as a first-generation college student, Quiroz said his parents stressed the importance of going to college.
He and McMillon agreed that the 21st Century program helped with study skills and adjusting to college life. McMillon said she came to IU worried that having a social life would interfere with her studies.
“At first, I was afraid to socialize with people, but once I came out of my shell a little bit, it helped,” she said.
Gibson said the vast majority of students in the program are first-generation college students like Quiroz and McMillon, and he reminds them that earning a college degree will affect not only their future career, but also the careers of their children.
“I tell them, ‘This is not just going to affect your life, but generations to come,”’ Gibson said.