- Associated Press - Friday, December 26, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - State officials are faced with coming up with millions of dollars to cover a big increase coming in the number of students in Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars program.

The program that started in 1990 has promised low-income middle school students a full state college scholarship if they stay out of criminal trouble, don’t use drugs and get acceptable grades.

The state Commission for Higher Education projects the program’s cost will jump $54 million, or 45 percent, to about $174 million next school year. More students graduating from high school in 2015 and 2016 are eligible, in part because they may have enrolled as additional families were meeting income eligibility limits during the national recession, the Evansville Courier & Press reports (http://bit.ly/1wqPRc2 ).

State budget leaders were briefed on the expected rise in costs as the Commission for Higher Education, which administers the program, presented its spending requests for the new two-year state budget. Legislators must approve the budget by the end of April, and the additional costs have left some lawmakers concerned.

“No matter what we do, because of the number of people we have grandfathered in, we got a little bump coming here that’s going to be a pretty severe problem,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville.

Costs for the program, which averages about 12,000 students a year and at one time guaranteed as much as four years of full tuition at an Indiana public university, are expected to decrease as financial aid changes that legislators passed in recent years go into effect.

Those changes include raising the high school grade-point average required to become eligible for the scholarship from 2.0 to 2.5.

The state now evaluates a student’s financial means each year of college to determine whether they still need the scholarship. A student must complete at least 30 credit hours per school year in college, or they are bumped down to a smaller scholarship amount.

The General Assembly also has the option to adjust the scholarship amount to the availability of state funding for students who enrolled the program after June 2011, which could affect some students in the classes of 2016 and 2017.

Even with those change, Kenley said lawmakers may need to discuss whether enough was done to make the scholarship program a “fiscally responsible package.”

“I think that’s something we may need to look into,” Kenley said.

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Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, http://www.courierpress.com

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