IU's Groups Scholars Program now offering four years of funding for undergraduates

By Jennifer Piurek and George Vlahakis

Thursday, August 21, 2014

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- As a student at Andrean High School in Merrillville, Ind., Anthony Ford knew exactly where he wanted to go to college.

“After I decided on IU, I kept running into random people who were students or alumni telling me so many great things -- it seemed like a sign,” Ford said. “It’s such a big, beautiful campus, and it feels like such a diverse place.”

While Ford knew he wanted to go to Indiana University Bloomington, he didn’t realize that entering IU as part of the Groups Scholars Program would help cover the cost of his undergraduate education for four years.

Through a reallocation of resources -- without adding any new funding to the program -- IU’s diversity leaders have ensured that every student accepted to the Groups program will receive assistance for four years.

Established in 1968 to increase college attendance among first-generation, underrepresented IU students, the Groups Scholars Program provides financial support for tuition and fees, books, and room and board in the freshman year and tuition and fees for years two through four based on need, along with tutoring, social support and mentoring.

Until this year, Groups was funded for freshman year only. But while student retention after the first year of Groups is about 90 percent, graduation rates for these students in recent years has hovered between 25 and 36 percent for four-year graduation rates and between 40 and 52 percent for six-year rates.

That number is expected to change drastically, thanks to the efforts of James Wimbush, vice president for diversity, equity and multicultural affairs and dean of the University Graduate School; Martin McCrory, vice provost for educational inclusion and diversity and associate vice president for academic support and diversity in the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs; and Mary Tourner, director of Groups.

Students already in the program will also receive assistance for the remainder of their undergraduate education, Tourner said.

“Now these students won’t need to be working two or three jobs,” Wimbush said.  “They won’t have to worry about how to pay for books. By providing four years of funding, we’ll significantly increase the retention rate.”

McCrory said the program’s tutoring and peer mentoring services are invaluable. “Students who’ve gone through the program want to give back. They know what it's like to be first-generation college students. They’ve found a way to be successful at IU, and they want to share their experiences.”

Sixty percent of Groups scholars are also 21st Century Scholars, and many are also part of the Hudson and Holland Scholars Program. All three of the programs are designed to help foster the success of underrepresented, low-income or first-generation students. Increased collaboration between these programs is good news for students and for the many IU leaders who have been working for years on diversity recruitment and retention in cooperation with the Office of Enrollment Management.

“I am overjoyed to hear that IU is making this investment in the Groups Scholars Program,” Indiana state Rep. Cherrish Pryor said. “As an alumna of Groups, I can honestly say it was a critical component to my success as an IU student in Bloomington. I am proud that my alma mater is making this financial investment in our future leaders.”

Once accepted into the Groups program, admitted students must live on campus for six weeks the summer before freshman year and take part in a rigorous college “boot camp” to give them a taste of college work in areas such as critical reading, math and English composition while becoming familiar with campus. The process raises the levels of student success in the fall, Tourner said.

“We focused our entire summer message on one thing: academics first,” Tourner said. “These are all prep courses to raise their confidence levels for fall. Many students say that by the time they take freshman writing class, it’s a breeze because we prepare them so well.”

In the past decade, the completion rate for Groups scholars in the summer program was 89 percent. “The completion rate this summer was the highest ever recorded: 97 percent,” Tourner said.

Ford went into the summer thinking it would be easy. “It was the most work I’ve ever had to do in my life,” said Ford, who is also a Hudson and Holland scholar. “But I’m grateful for it. There are so many things I would have had to worry about financially, but I don’t have to worry.”

Sondra Ford is proud of her son, who is the first of her six children to go to college. Among all of the kids in the family -- a total of 11, including stepsiblings -- he’s the second to go to college. And Sondra is planning on her daughter, a high school senior, following in Anthony’s footsteps as a future Groups student at IU.

When Sondra attended a Groups presentation for parents in Merrillville, she said there were hundreds of people in the room, but it felt like a conversation.

“I was excited to hear about what internship opportunities he would have, and the opportunities to study abroad,” she said. “And the whole audience went up in applause when they announced that funding was for four years now.”


Media contacts: Jennifer Piurek, jpiurek@iu.edu, and George Vlahakis, IU Communications, vlahakis@iu.edu


Related story: Groups Scholars Program to offer 4-year funding