WABASH VALLEY, Ind. (WAWV/WTWO) — A proposed bill in the upcoming legislative session would make it easier for some students to receive college scholarships.

Bill 1449, authored by State Rep. Earl Harris Jr. (D-East Chicago) unanimously passed through the education committee. The bill aims to auto-enroll eligible students in the 21st Century Scholarship Program and has received co-sponsors from both sides of the political aisle.

The 21st Century Scholars program was established over thirty years ago and has provided students who meet certain academic criteria and income requirements with full scholarships to Indiana colleges and universities.

Many Indiana students who could be eligible, fail to apply.

“On a yearly basis, there are so many kids that we miss because of the application process,” Katie Couch, Sullivan High School Counselor explained. “Even as streamlined as they make the process now, you still have lots of parents that don’t fill it out,” she added.

Currently, eligible students must sign up for the program during middle school. Local educators feel that by auto-enrolling students in the 21st Century Scholarship program, more students will be able to take advantage of the 100% tuition scholarships by removing barriers.

“They don’t realize the impact of what it means when they’re in middle school,” Couch noted. That reality of tuition and what college costs really doesn’t hit until you start thinking about what college costs when they’re in high school. It’s going to be another barrier that’s removed from students who could not financially afford to be able to go to college.”

Bill 1449 would automatically enroll students into the program which would help to take the burden off of families. Dr. Candace Joles, Director of Vincennes University COPE Student Services commented on the benefits of the bill for eligible students.

“By them not being automatically enrolled, some students I work with who are low-income have missed the deadline or didn’t realize it or didn’t understand. I think that is an awesome proposal because it’s going to serve so many students,” Joles said. “I think the auto-enrollment for 21st Century would give some of our students the opportunity to finish a degree. Some students who have not applied and didn’t receive this, are so overwhelmed with the college debt burden and I think that this would alleviate some of the external factors affecting students from being successful at college.”

Currently, middle school students in 7th and 8th grade are eligible to apply. Students or parents should talk with their school counselor for more information or to apply. They can also visit the Learn More Indiana website for eligibility criteria and more information. The deadline to apply is by June 30th of the student’s 8th-grade year.