College & Workforce Readiness Opinion

How Indiana Supports College Access and Success for All Students

By Urban Education Contributor — July 05, 2018 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

This post is by Gina Deom, director for research and analytics at the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

Today’s post is the practitioner perspective on Monday’s post: What Predicts Early College Success for Indiana Students?

Indiana is strongly committed to providing students from low-income households with access to a college education. Our state ranks fifth in the nation in need-based grant aid per undergraduate full-time equivalent enrollment, and all of Indiana’s financial aid programs work to ensure that college is accessible and attainable for all Hoosier students.

One example of Indiana’s commitment to accessible education is our need-based 21st Century Scholars Program. This early promise program awards up to four years of full tuition and fees at Indiana public institutions or a portion of tuition and fees at Indiana private colleges. Students who qualify based on income may enroll in the program in grade 7 or 8. Those who complete the program’s requirements are then awarded the scholarship upon graduation from high school. Since the program’s inception in 1990, more than 85,000 Indiana students have received 21st Century Scholarships, providing tens of thousands of Hoosiers from low-income households with access to a college education.

Indiana is committed not only to increasing college access for Hoosiers from low-income households, but also to supporting college success and completion. The Indiana Commission for Higher Education (ICHE), where I am the director for research and analytics, relies on both internal analyses and external research to drive policy changes and inform strategic planning. In 2017, we partnered with Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest and the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) on a study to examine the early college success of Indiana’s 2014 high school graduates who enrolled in an in-state public college that fall. A follow-up to a previous REL Midwest study that used 2010 data, this new study expanded the focus to include the relationship between types of financial aid and early college success.

During the study, REL Midwest researchers examined the relationship between various student characteristics—including demographics, pre-college academic preparation, and financial aid status—and four outcome measures of success for the first year of college. These measures included taking only non-remedial coursework in the first semester, earning all attempted credits in the first semester, persisting to a second year of college, and a composite indicating success on all three measures.

The study results, summarized in Monday’s post, provided a comprehensive picture of Indiana students’ college readiness. Among its key findings: 21st Century Scholarship recipients had more positive early college outcomes than their peers who received only Pell Grants. In particular, students who received 21st Century Scholarships were significantly more likely to persist to a second year of college. The study also found gaps in college success rates by race/ethnicity, free or reduced-price lunch status (an indicator of household income), high school diploma type, and Advanced Placement (AP) examination status. Indiana students facing the most challenges in those categories were Black students, those eligible to participate in the free or reduced-price lunch program, those who graduated with General diplomas, and those who did not take an AP examination.

Use of Research Findings in Practice and Future Work

The results of the REL Midwest study complement many of the findings of ICHE’s College Readiness reports and raise several considerations for increasing college success and completion for Hoosier students from low-income households. Foremost, the findings highlight the importance of Indiana’s 21st Century Scholarships as a means of closing achievement gaps and ensuring that a college education is attainable for all Hoosier students, regardless of household income. Indiana’s K-12, community, and student outreach leaders need to continue their efforts to increase enrollment in the 21st Century Scholars Program and the percentage of participants maintaining scholarship requirements.

Further research on innovative outreach practices, as well as on factors most closely associated with failing to meet scholarship requirements, is needed to increase access to 21st Century Scholarships. To complement to ICHE’s published Scholar Progress Reports, ICHE plans to conduct supplemental analyses that breakdown statistics by student demographics and academic preparedness to better understand which types of students face the most challenges in terms of enrolling in the 21st Century Scholars program and maintaining program requirements.

REL Midwest’s findings also highlight the importance of expanding supports beyond participants in the 21st Century Scholars Program to other Hoosier students from low-income households. For example, K-12 and college partners should work to strengthen supports to Pell Grant recipients and other financial aid students who did not participate in the 21st Century Scholars Program. ICHE’s reports provide disaggregated school- and campus-level data by all low-income groups to help schools and campuses develop targets for closing achievement gaps at the local level. ICHE also plans to group data by schools and campuses that serve similar at-risk student populations to promote collaboration and innovative thinking on how best to serve these populations overall.

The Indiana Commission for Higher Education remains committed to developing policies that address gaps in college success and completion for underrepresented groups. ICHE is thankful for its partnership with REL Midwest, IDOE, and others involved in this project. Through continued collaboration among ICHE, K-12 partners, state legislators, and other state and national thought leaders, Indiana can serve at-risk students and create an education pipeline that provides all Hoosiers with the means and opportunities to attain their postsecondary goals and thrive in life.

Learn more about the Indiana 21st Century Scholars Program.

The opinions expressed in Urban Education Reform: Bridging Research and Practice are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.