Indiana’s Financial Aid Rules Squeeze Older Students

When Matt Vincent decided it was finally time to pursue a college degree, he quickly learned a dirty little secret that adult students come to realize: Indiana wants you back in class, but don’t come asking for money.

After two decades of consistent growth, adult students — defined by most educators as those 25 and up — are now the majority in Indiana.

But the state’s massive $253 million pot of financial aid for needy students goes almost exclusively to young, full-time, traditional college students. A drop in the bucket, about $5.3 million, is set aside for "part-time" students.

The 25-and-older adult students, many of whom have jobs and families, tend to be part-time students, which means they have access to less financial aid. They also are often unfamiliar with how to access what little aid is available.

"The process was kind of confusing. I didn’t know there were any state grants," said Vincent, a 24-year-old Ivy Tech Community College student who had to settle for a student loan to begin taking classes last year.

State education leaders recognize the issue and are proposing to overhaul the financial aid system to benefit older students in a number of ways: creating a new financial aid fund for adult students, tweaking current rules that prohibit aid for adult-friendly summer semesters and boosting individual grants for those completing a two-year degree at a community college.

State Higher Education Commissioner Teresa Lubbers said the proposals – part of a wide-ranging, 76-page report to be unveiled today at a State Budget Committee meeting – do not specifically ask for any new state funding.

Instead, she said, money could be saved through other changes to the financial aid system and then redirected to adult students. But how much is unclear. So, too, is what impact those changes might have on existing programs.

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