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Indiana Looks to Boost Aid to Older Students

INDIANAPOLIS — State officials have proposed overhauling Indiana’s college financial aid system to make more money available to older adults, who are more than half of the state’s students but receive a small amount of assistance.

State Higher Education Commissioner Teresa Lubbers said millions of dollars in aid could be redirected to students 25 and older looking to finish a degree or find a second career, The Indianapolis Star reported in a story Wednesday.

State officials estimate 54 percent of Indiana’s college students are at least 25. But many of them have less access to the state’s $253 million pool of financial aid because they are in school part-time. Only about $5.3 million in aid goes to part-time students.

“More students are older than the traditional 17- to 24-year-olds,” Lubbers said. “Many are in their late 20s or early 30s. They have jobs, housing and families of their own.”

Other changes Lubbers said were under consideration are:

* Tightening the rules for 21st Century Scholars grants, which offer full-ride scholarships to needy youth who stay out of trouble and meet grade-point average standards.

* Taking grants away from traditional students who drop below full-time status during a semester or fail to meet academic expectations.

* Moving money for military veterans and their children and inmates who take classes in state prisons out of the student aid fund and making it the responsibility of other agencies.

“We don’t believe there are any winners or losers. Fine-tuning is what we were after,” said state higher education commission member Gerald Bepko, a former chancellor of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “I think everybody was looking at how we can get the most out of the scarce resources that we have.”

Such changes would please Matt Vincent, a 24-year-old Ivy Tech Community College student who took out a student loan to begin taking classes last year.

“The process was kind of confusing,” he said. “I didn’t know there were any state grants.”

Vincent eventually wants to transfer to IUPUI to earn a four-year degree. After his first quest for financial aid ended with nothing but a guaranteed student loan, the Fort Wayne native, who served in the Army right after high school, qualified for a federal Pell grant for his second year.

“I didn’t get the Pell grant my first year because I had worked for a full year prior to my classes and was making pretty decent money,” Vincent said. “But now I qualify, and the financial aid has helped a lot.”

Many of the recommendations will require changes in state laws that cover various programs. Because they cover so many programs, changes are likely to come over the next year or two, Lubbers said.

Gov. Mitch Daniels has pushed programs that encourage adults to return to school.

“Many folks have not noticed the dramatic transformation on our campuses,” Daniels said. “A small percentage of our students today fit the stereotype: students in residence at a four-year school.

“But our student aid and our other investments continue to be aimed at what is a shrinking percentage. We have to find some affordable, convenient ways to help those who are already in their 20s or 30s or beyond to get a new degree or at least a new credential.” 

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