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Indiana schools have 48 hours if they want grant money to help push kids toward college

Just two days before the deadline, only a tiny fraction of Indiana schools have claimed state funds for helping poor students get college scholarships.

More than 700 high schools have seniors who are working to finish the 21st Century Scholars program, which gives scholarships to students who complete college preparatory activities. But only 29 have applied to get the $25 per student that the state would give them for each scholar — and the deadline is Friday.

“The dollars are … to reward work schools are already doing,” Stephanie Wilson, spokeswoman for the Commission for Higher Education, said in an email. “Schools that don’t apply are just leaving money on the table.”

It might not sound like much, but it could mean hundreds or thousands of dollars in funding for schools. In Indianapolis Public Schools, 156 scholars are in the class of 2017 — that’s a total of $3,900 that could go to support students if the district’s high schools apply for the grant. Countywide, 3,611 students are enrolled in the scholars program, and if they complete required online activities, it could bring their schools $90,275 in extra funds.

So far in Marion County, just a handful of high schools have applied: Northwest High School in IPS, Ben Davis High School in Wayne Township, and Charles A. Tindley Accelerated charter school.

The scholarships are open to kids from families who meet certain income levels. For example, a family of four must earn less than $44,863 annually, as well as meet other criteria.

Chalkbeat reported in May that just 20 percent of Indiana students in the class of 2017 who entered the program in eighth grade had completed requirements so far for the program. That meant more than 14,000 needy students were behind. In Marion County prospects were even grimmer: Only 13 percent of students had completed program requirements.

The problem stemmed from changes to the 26-year-old program that were mandated in 2011 when the Indiana General Assembly heaped on extra requirements and raised the GPA threshold from 2.0 to 2.5. Lawmakers wanted to ensure that students awarded the scholarships were prepared for college. This year’s high school seniors are the first graduating class that will be held to the new standards, which also include a checklist of activities during their four years of high school.

But since then, students have made some progress. Now, about one-third of seniors are on-track to earn scholarships. Countywide, it’s up to 25 percent.

According to state data, students who complete the program and go on to college are less likely to need remediation — 21 percent of scholars vs. 34 percent of low-income students not in the program. They’re also more likely to stay after the first year and complete college on time.

Schools can apply for grants here.