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 Lang, an American philanthropist who had promised to pay for the college education of an entire 6th-grade class at his grammar school alma mater in East Harlem, New York if they made the commitment to graduate from high school. Moved by his story, Governor Bayh worked with the state legislature to create and launch the Indiana 21st Century scholars Program in fall 1990. With the support of Stan Jones, former commissioner at Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education (CHE), the original law set the eligibility requirements for the program to launch in the state of Indiana and provided a promise from the state to pay for four years of in-state tuition for eligible Scholars who honored a pledge good citizenship.

At that time, the primary purpose of the 21st Century Scholarship Program was to help Indiana 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 created 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, 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 help develop a support program that would actively recruit eligible students into the 21st Century Scholars Program and provide encouragement to keep them on track for college.

In 1994, Philip A. Seabrook would become the first state Director of the Indiana 21st Century Scholars Program at Indiana University Bloomington. With the support of the Lilly Endowment, the Indiana 21st Century Scholars Program would grow to include 14 regional support sites throughout the state. The program represents a significant ongoing commitment from state leaders to fund higher education for students in need. From 1990 to 2014, the state has dedicated $495 million to scholarships for students who qualify. In 2016, 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.

Today, there are 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, where more than 70,000 scholars have obtained a college degree. 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.

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, currently 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 (2006-2008), Lorraine Robert (2004-2006), Jennifer L. Chait (1998-2004), and Philip A. Seabrook (1994-1998) were the former directors of the IU 21st Century Scholars Program.