Our History

IU 21st Century Scholars Program

The Indiana 21st Century Scholars Program began more than 25 years ago under the visionary leadership of 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, the former commissioner at Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education (CHE), the 21st Century Scholars Program was signed into state legislation by the 1990 Indiana General Assembly. The original law set the eligibility requirements for the program to launch and provided a promise from the state to pay for up to four years of in-state tuition for eligible Scholars who honored a pledge of good citizenship.

During the 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 Governor Bayh 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 Commissioner 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 director of the Upward Bound Program at Indiana University, 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.

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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 Indiana University Bloomington. 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 Indiana 21st Century Scholars Program grew to include 14 regional support sites throughout the state. The program represented a significant ongoing commitment from state leaders and policymakers to fund higher education for students in need.

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From 1990 to 2014, the state dedicated $495 million to scholarships for students who qualify, and in 2015, more than 70,000 students statewide obtained a college degree through the Indiana 21st Century Scholars Program since its inception in 1990. As of 2016, more than 50 participating colleges and universities who accept Scholars, representing 100 different campuses. The program has had a huge impact on the state of Indiana. On the IU Bloomington campus, nearly 1 out of 5 undergraduate students are 21st Century Scholars. With college tuition increasing and government appropriation decreasing, the IU Office of Scholarships established the 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 doubled to assist high financial need students from Indiana in earning college degrees. In 2008, the Indiana ScholarCorps program, now known as IU 21st Century Scholar Volunteer Corps, was established to increase social and civic engagement of young people.  Today, IU Volunteer 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 Volunteer 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. Elijah Secrest serves as the president of IU Volunteer Corps.

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. At present, over 120,000 students are enrolled in the program, with approximately 3,200 scholars that have called IU Bloomington their home. 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 at Indiana University Bloomington. The IU 21st Century Scholars Program is housed in the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs (OVPDEMA) 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.

Vincent E. Isom currently serves as the executive director of the IU 21st Century Scholars Program. Philip A. Seabrook, founding director of the IU 21st Century Scholars Program, serves as the Assistant Vice President for College Readiness and Retention Initiative in the Office the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs (OVPDEMA) 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.

In October 2017, former director Jeanetta S. Nelms was inducted into the prestigious Indiana University Presidents Circle by IU President Michael A. McRobbie for her strong philanthropic support and dedication to the IU 21st Century Scholars Program.

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