Indianapolis — Indiana's 21st Century Scholars program started two decades ago with a straightforward proposition to low-income middle schoolers: Don't use drugs, stay out of criminal trouble and get acceptable grades in return for a full scholarship to college.
The combination of the program's growing popularity and the state's recession-driven budget bind, however, has state officials looking to tighten up both the academic and financial requirements that students must meet to receive the scholarships.
Nearly 13,000 students received the 21st Century scholarships last school year — up 44 percent from 2006. Though the 21st Century and other college aid funds were spared budget cuts that hit most state agencies in the past year, the state financial aid agency had to shift $17 million from other funds to cover its $45 million cost.
As lawmakers work to craft a new two-year budget, Gov. Mitch Daniels has proposed no cuts for the nearly $250 million program. But the increase in scholarships, combined with a 39 percent jump in overall applications for financial aid, is prompting lawmakers to look for ways to stretch the available money.
"We think it's a great program," said state Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville. "We'd like to keep it alive and see it get a significant amount of money to cover everybody."
Kenley's committee last week endorsed a bill that would increase the required high school grade-point average from 2.0 to 2.5 for a student to receive the scholarship.
A bill pending in the Indiana House would change the income eligibility requirements.
Currently, students can sign up for the 21st Century Scholar program in middle school if they are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch programs. They can receive the scholarship regardless of family income when they start college.
Lawmakers want to change those requirements so that, starting in 2012, students would have show they still meet the income guidelines at the end of high school in order to get the scholarship.