Indiana University

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Last modified: Wednesday, November 28, 2007

IU School of Education researchers to examine success of 21st Century Scholars program

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Comprehensive study to determine how itís working, if adjustments are needed

Nov. 28, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Researchers from the Indiana University School of Education will begin work on a study at the first of the year to determine the success of the state of Indiana's program to help low-income families send children to college. The study of the 21st Century Scholars (TFCS) program is funded by the Spencer Foundation, a Chicago-based organization which provides grants for education research. The research grant is for a $497,000 study to be conducted over two years.

The study will follow Indiana students who completed a survey while in ninth grade in 1997. Around 71,000 students -- 85 percent of the ninth graders in the state at the time -- completed the survey. After building a database of students, the researchers will determine which ones took advantage of the TFCS and what level of education the students achieved. The study will try further to determine some impacts upon eligible students who did not participate in the program.

The TFCS program is available to all middle school students in the state who are eligible for free lunch, maintain a 2.0 grade point average in school, and sign a pledge to abstain from using drugs or alcohol. In exchange, the state of Indiana will pay the tuition and fees for any graduating TFCS student at an in-state public institution, or the equivalent amount at an in-state private institution.

The state of Indiana began the TFCS program in 1990 in an effort to curb high school dropout rates, encourage further education, prepare the workforce, and reduce harmful behaviors among middle and high school students.

"We want to determine how effective the program is at enabling students to have aspirations to go to college, then actually go to college and hopefully successfully complete college," said Rob Toutkoushian (pronounced Toot-koo-shee-an), associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies and chair of the Educational Leadership program in the IU School of Education.

Toutkoushian is the co-principal investigator on the project along with George Kuh, Chancellor's Professor of Higher Education and director of the Center for Postsecondary Research, and Don Hossler, professor of educational leadership and policy studies and director of the Project on Academic Success.

The project starts in January and will run through 2009. Toutkoushian said building the database alone will likely take about six months.

"The challenge will then be to statistically determine whether the participation in the program has made a difference for students," he said.

All of the schools in the Indiana University system participate in the 21st Century Scholars program, as do Purdue University, Indiana State University, Ball State University and Ivy Tech Community College. Eligible students can apply money from the program toward some private school tuition within Indiana, although the money supplied is only equivalent to public university tuition.

Beginning this fall, IU Bloomington began the 21st Century Scholarship Covenant, which covers fees and other expenses on top of the 21st Century Scholarship. Around 900 21st Century Scholars attend the Bloomington campus.

The data from the survey given to Indiana ninth graders 10 years ago provides helpful information. The survey collected information on student educational aspirations, parental education, primary spoken language and career goals. The large survey sample will help in developing a meaningful result.

"We feel good about the numbers we're starting with," Toutkoushian said.

Toutkoushian said the difficult portion will be determining whether choosing the program was the overall key to a student's success. To that end, the researchers will try to isolate the impact of program participation within the group of students.

"The real challenge is to determine what would have happened to those students if they did not participate in the program," Toutkoushian said.

The study is of particular importance to the field for two reasons. First, the researchers will investigate the impact of participation in the TFCS program on a series of stages of educational choice, including taking the SAT, applying for financial aid, enrolling in college and the levels of educational aspirations. And, second, the study will use several innovative techniques to measure the effectiveness of the program. These techniques are designed to control for the influence of unobservable factors on the decisions of students to enroll in the TFCS program.

Media Outlets: the following comments are available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Website at Look for the story headline under "Podcasts."

Toutkoushian explains how the research will use the data gathered from middle school students on 1997:

"We're working backwards, so to speak. We're starting with a cohort of students in 1997 who were ninth grade students at the time, and they had taken a survey all across the state. It was a large number of students that took this survey. The state was able to collect some valuable background information on these students. What we're doing is building a longitudinal database starting from that group and following them up forward through their education.

"One of the things that we're going to be tracking or adding into that database will be information about their participation in the 21st Century Scholars program. So then the challenge -- once we've built this database, and that will probably take a good six months just to construct the database and add in data from all these different sources -- the challenge will then be to statistically determine whether the participation in the program has made a difference for students."

The findings of the study could have implications in several ways:

"We're going to look at a range of different outcomes. Typically when people do a study like this, their outcome might be whether or not a student goes to college. So they would have data on whether or not they enrolled in college, and try to see if students who participated in the program are more likely to go to college than similar students who did not participate in the program.

"What we're going to do is, we're going to look at that, but we're also going to look at a lot of other factors as well. So for example, students take the SAT at some point in their 10th or 11th grade, and that's a good early indicator of student's interest in going to college. We want to do parallel analyses on factors such as whether or not they take the SAT, or whether or not they apply for the federal financial aid through the FAFSA form.

"So, there are several different of these stages we're going to look at, and we may be able to determine, for example, that for participants of the 21st Century Scholars program, perhaps the divergence happens early on, even before they get to the point of enrolling in college, and if so we may be able to identify some policies to help improve the college going rate."

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