By ELIZABETH GABRIEL
Ivy Tech Community College is offering in-person or virtual college courses at no cost — including free tuition, fees and books — for high school students this summer.
Students in grades 9-12 are now eligible, including eighth graders entering ninth grade, graduating seniors, homeschool students, and students at adult high schools.
Rebecca Lynn Rahschulte, vice president of K-14 and statewide initiatives at Ivy Tech, hopes eliminating the financial barrier will help more people pursue higher education and prepare people for more sustainable, well-paying careers. Indiana’s college going rates have declined — only 53 percent of 2020 high school seniors attended post-secondary programming, according to data from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.
“Now, you couple that with the fact that [industries are] growing in its need for individuals with post secondary competencies,” Rahschulte said. “And so that creates a unique challenge, obviously, for our young Hoosiers, and then also our workforce.”
And that could make it hard for employers to find a skilled talent pipeline. Indiana currently has more than 175,000 open jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In its second year, the free summer program was inspired by a similar statewide initiative launched in 2021, known as Crossing the Finish Line. It allows the more than 16,000 high school students who are only a few credit hours away from earning a high-quality credential, such as a technical certificate, to take free courses at Ivy Tech or Vincennes University.
In 2022, 3,300 high school students participated in the Crossing the Finish Line program and earned a combined 1,400 credential completions, and saved families over $2.5 million, according to the Indiana Department of Education. The program is funded through federal COVID-19 pandemic relief funds.
For this summer’s program, students must meet required prerequisites to enroll in a class, but there’s no limit to the number of courses a student can take. Rahschulte said she strongly encourages students to meet with an Ivy Tech advisor to ensure students sign up for courses and a course load that’s manageable for them.
Although the free summer program allows students to explore various career options at no charge, the opportunity is only available to teens and young adults who are Indiana residents — that excludes students who identify as undocumented. These students who are undocumented are already required to pay double, sometimes triple, the tuition costs of their peers for higher education due to a 2011 Indiana law that prevents them from receiving in-state tuition.
Ivy Tech is using institutional funds to pay for the program. Last year, over 3,000 high schoolers participated in the program. This year the college hopes to serve roughly 5,000 students, which could cost roughly $747,750 if they meet their goal, based on Ivy Tech’s current tuition and fees rate of $149.55 per credit hour.
Rahschulte hopes to register students by May 30. Ivy Tech’s eight-week summer term begins June 5.