Our History

IU 21st Century Scholars Program

The Indiana 21st Century Scholars Program began more than 25 years ago under the visionary leadership of Stan Jones, the former commissioner at Indiana Commission for Higher Education (CHE), and American politician Evan Bayh, the 46th Governor of Indiana.

In 1989, Governor Bayh had been inspired by the story of Eugene M. Lang, an American philanthropist who had promised to pay for the college education of an entire 6th-grade graduating class of 61 low-income students in East Harlem, New York if they made the commitment to graduate from high school and attend college. Moved by his story, Governor Bayh incorporated elements of I Have a Dream Foundation (IHAD) model and worked with state legislatures to create and launch the Indiana 21st Century Scholars Program in fall 1990. With the support of Stan Jones, who served as Founder & CEO of Complete College America (CCA), the 21st Century Scholars Program was signed into state legislation by the 1990 Indiana General Assembly. The original law allowed Mr. Jones to set the eligibility requirements for the program and to launch a college promise program that pays up to four years of in-state tuition to eligible students who honored a pledge of good citizenship.

During the early 1990s, the primary purpose of the Indiana 21st Century Scholarship Program was to help low-income families meet the ever-increasing cost of a college education and to provide middle and high school students with an extra incentive to perform well academically and be responsible students and citizens. However, during the early years, the program was developed by Mr. Jones with the “If you build it, they will come model in mind.” This idea resulted in low enrollment because it was assumed that eligible students would simply sign up to be scholars on their own, with little outside guidance or support.

To overcome this challenge, in 1993, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education (CHE) approached Charlie Nelms, who was then the Chancellor of the Indiana University East Campus, and Philip A. Seabrook, who was the Founding Director of Support Programs at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis (IUPUI), to see if they could develop a support service program similar to the I Have a Dream Foundation (IHAD) model that would actively recruit eligible low-income students into the Indiana 21st Century Scholars Program and provide encouragement to keep them on track for college.


Former IU Chancellor Charlie Nelms with Jeanetta S. Nelms, former director of IU 21st Century Scholars Program

In 1994, IU president Myles Brand appointed Philip A. Seabrook to serve as the first state Director of the Indiana 21st Century Scholars Program at IUPUI. With the support of the Lilly Endowment and Lumina Foundation, the first Scholars began enrolling at IU in 1995 and the first graduating class in 1999. The IUPUI 21st Century Scholars Program grew to include 14 regional student support services throughout the state, including the IUB 21st Century Scholars Program in 1994. The program represented a significant ongoing commitment from state leaders and policymakers to fund higher education for students in need.

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Between 1990 and 2017, more than 100,000 Indiana students have received the Indiana 21st Century Scholars Program, providing Hoosiers from low- and modest-income households with access to a college education. The program has had a huge impact on the State of Indiana, with over $161 million dollars disbursed to award recipients during the Fiscal Year 2017 to cover tuition and fees. In 2016, former Indiana Governor Mike Pence and now the 48th Vice President of the United States signed an executive order to rename the 21st Century Scholars Program to the Evan Bayh 21st Century Scholars Program. As of August 2018, more than 50 participating colleges and universities accept Scholars, representing 100 different campuses. On the IU Bloomington campus, nearly 1 out of 5 undergraduate students are 21st Century Scholars, with approximately 3,200 scholars that have called IUB their home.


Martin A. McCrory, associate professor of business law at IU Kelley School of Business & former associate vice president for IU OVPDEI, provides free tutoring services to IU 21st Century Scholars in 1997.

The IU Bloomington campus has Scholars that are enrolled in every school/department, working on degrees in virtually every major offered, and is currently the largest department in terms of student enrollment at Indiana University Bloomington. With college tuition increasing and government appropriation decreasing, the IU Office of Scholarships has partnered with the IU Office of the Provost to establish the "IU 21st Century Scholars Covenant" in 2007 to supplement the existing program for 275 students in the first year. With the support of the Covenant, the number of Scholars attending IU Bloomington more than doubled during the 2007-2008 academic year to assist high financial need students from Indiana in earning college degrees.

In 2008, the Indiana ScholarCorps program, now known as the IU 21st Century Scholar Leadership Corps, was established to increase the social and civic engagement of young adults. Today, IU Leadership Corps is a student-led organization of approximately 100+ members dedicated connect IU 21st Century Scholars with volunteer opportunities that relate to their major(s) and/or interests. IU Leadership Corps annual events include IU Greening Cream and Crimson, Girls Inc. Holiday Hoopla, Stone Belt, Bloomington AIDS Walk, Kelley 5K, and the IU 21st Century Scholars Day. Current scholar Dakota C. Suomela serves as the president of IU Leadership Corps.

The IU 21st Century Scholars Program is currently housed in the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (OVPDEI) at Indiana University Bloomington. In 2020, the IU 21st Century Scholars Program will celebrate its 30th anniversary since its founding in 1990, aligning with IU Bicentennial celebration. Vincent E. Isom currently serves as the director of the IU 21st Century Scholars Program at Indiana University Bloomington. Jim Gibson (2012-2015), Chris A. Enstrom (2008-2012), Jeanetta S. Nelms (2004-2008), Lorraine Robert (2002-2004), Jennifer L. Chait (1998-2002), and Philip A. Seabrook (1994-1998) were the former directors of the IU 21st Century Scholars Program.

Two students laugh as they sit and drink their coffee.
Two students talk while one student plays the piano.
A group of three girls sit and chat.