Now in its eighth year the College Bound Scholarship Program continues to make the dream of going to college possible for the children of Hammond home owners by paying for tuition.
That focus on education as a priority dovetails into the program’s other two goals – increasing homeownership and improving the quality of life within the city.
Mayor Thomas M. McDermott Jr. developed the idea and brought it to the Hammond City Council in 2006 as a way to increase home ownership in the city by providing tuition scholarships to students. Gaming money received by Hammond from Horseshoe Casino has funded the scholarship program since its inception.
Hammond, in fact, became the first city in the nation to invest public dollars in raising the level, importance and performance of its student population, and the College Bound scholarship program has won awards and accolades from various national groups.
Authorized for an initial 10 years by the City Council, the program offers a full-ride tuition scholarship to an Indiana public college or university for high school graduates whose parents or guardians own and occupy homes in Hammond.
The scholarship amount students receive through the program depends on the tuition costs at their Indiana college and how long their parents or legal guardian have owned a home in the city. Since its establishment, the maximum scholarship amount a participant can receive has been based on the cost of tuition paid for 30 credit hours a year at Indiana University Bloomington.
The focus on home ownership has improved the quality of life in the City of Hammond, according to McDermott.
“Homeownership creates stability, investment and pride in one’s community,” says McDermott. “Because of that stability, crime rates are lowered, the community becomes more attractive for new economic development and the appearance and condition of property improves as owners seek to protect their largest investment.”
In addition, home owners are more likely to become active members of the community, the mayor says.
College Bound will also attract and retain the best and brightest to stay and learn in Hammond, according to McDermott. Long-term, the scholarship program may even result in increasing the city’s college educated population to be more proportionate to the national average, he says.
That demographic can bring about an array of new employment opportunities in cutting edge technologies and industry, McDermott says.
With its documented success, discussions are currently under way to renew the College Bound program beyond its initial 10-year run. Changes being discussed include shifting the benchmark for the scholarship amount from IU Bloomington to a local campus. McDermott has also said he wants to find a long-term funding resource rather than rely on gaming revenue.
Last year, Hammond raised the maximum scholarship to $10,100 annually in response to tuition increases at the Bloomington campus.
Then this June, the university's Board of Trustees again raised the tuition and fees for in-state undergraduate students at the Bloomington campus over the next two years. In-state students will pay approximately $10,200 for tuition and fees for the 2013-2014 academic year and just under $10,400 in the following year.
By comparison, Purdue University announced in March a freeze in tuition and the majority of fees over the next two years at the West Lafayette campus. In-state undergraduate students will pay $9,992 for the 2013-2014 academic year.
That has led to the discussion to use a local campus, such as Purdue University Calumet or Indiana University Northwest, as the scholarship benchmark, which would save on program costs, McDermott says.
According to the program’s annual report, in 2012 there were 169 College Bound students attending Purdue Calumet. That represents 34 percent of the program’s participants, the report says.
“Most of the students participating in the College Bound program go to school locally at Purdue Calumet and IUN,” McDermott says.
“In an effort to save money in the future, we may benchmark to Purdue Calumet or IUN. The first 10 years of the promise, I don't see wiggle room. We were going to benchmark ourselves to (the Bloomington campus,) so College Bound should increase accordingly,” he says.
“We were making the point at the time when we created the program that it has to be an Indiana college,” McDermott says.
“What better choice to benchmark it to one of the most prominent colleges in Indiana? It made sense at the time. Now College Bound is recognizable on its own. Do we need to continue to benchmark it to Indiana University? That’s the question,” he says.
Over the course of the program, scholarship costs have generally increased, city figures show. Tuition reimbursement rose from $2.2 million in 2010 to just over $3 million in 2011, but dropped to around $2.6 million in 2012, according to data provided by the Hammond City Controller's office.
For the last three years, the average College Bound scholarship amount per student was $7,053, according to city figures. During the same period of time, the maximum scholarship rose from $8,600 to $10,100.
James Hoelzel, chairman of the College Bound Oversight and Exceptions Committee, says because Indiana University Bloomington's tuition is higher than most schools, considering another benchmark for the scholarship is something the Hammond City Council can explore.
“It's a tremendous thing to have for Hammond,” Hoelzel says.