"Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world." – Nelson Mandela

Robert Smith became one of most talked about individuals on social media over the summer. Why? He told the Morehouse 2019 graduating class that he would pay off their student loans. Many donors have done the same but never so publicly. 

Most commencement speakers give the students the typical talk about striving for greatness and following your passion, but Mr. Smith went a step further. His gift is not just monetary, he’s changed the direction of those students’ lives. Now they are free to create the next big startup, find a cure for incurable disease, or build a nest egg for their grandchildren. 

Indiana residents have a college initiative that can have a similar effect. The 21st Century Scholarship provides students with up to four years of undergraduate tuition to income eligible students at participating public colleges or universities in Indiana. Some of the institutions help with indirect costs such as books and housing.

 This program saves students thousands of dollars. If a student attends participating college, their four-year $40,000 tuition could be paid in full!  According to a June 2019 article published on WFYI, the most recent data shows that less than half of eligible students apply.  As student college debt increases, we need to become ambassadors for the 21st Century Scholarship, and our goal should be to prepare and walk students through the college admission journey.  Many students sign up for the scholarship but struggle on how to manage the college admission and succeed in college, as the process can be very overwhelming.

When the Superbowl was held in Indy, businesses, nonprofits, and individual citizens came together to participate in and promote the game.  Even if someone was not a football fan, they knew the Super Bowl was coming. The 2021 NBA All Star game is also coming to Indy, and the first community initiative is for volunteers to knit at least 6,000 beanies. We need this same engagement and participation to promote the 21st Century Scholarship Program.

Here are some practical steps we can all take:

Speak Up: If you know a family with elementary and middle school students, tell them about 21st Century Scholarship.  Do not assume they will not qualify for the program, because due to the high cost of higher education, families need to explore all available options.  Families can enroll in the program online.

Connect: If your business provides services to parents, students, grandparents, or individuals who work with students, please pass the information along. Not just Information about the 21st Century Scholarship, but also InvestEd, Center for Leadership Development, and Learn More Indiana.  You can print out materials from their respective websites or request brochures for your office or website. 

Support: The college admission journey is like applying for a mortgage. Many of us had to educate our ourselves on home buying, closing costs, principal, and finding the best interest rate.  We are asking seventeen and eighteen year olds to manage a process that involves several stakeholders and perform tasks they are not equipped to do.  I’ve had parents who are college graduates ask me for help.  There are documents to collect, essays to write, college costs to calculate, and the infamous FAFSA form. If you are savvy with computers, have excellent writing skills, or love putting together a project; assist families with the journey.  Do not assume your niece or nephew has it taken care of, sometimes a simple” how can I help you?” goes a long way.

The 21st Century Scholarship produces Hoosier Scholars who are not only educated in a particular field but also able to take advantage of other opportunities provided by a college education.  The entire community can come together to ensure that each Hoosier child has the opportunity and support to go to, and graduate from college.  This should be our promise to each child.