James Yates signed up for the 21st Century Scholars program as a seventh grader in South Bend, never realizing what an impact it would have on his future.
His mother Angela, a single parent, worked several jobs to support him and his three siblings. And while he knew that she wouldn’t financially be able to contribute to his college education, he was “raised to believe that there is no wealth like knowledge and no poverty like ignorance,” he said.
Yates was among the first in his family to attend college when he arrived on campus at Indiana State University. Being a first-generation college student presented challenges due to lack of academic guidance. So—like a lot of freshmen—Yates had to learn from his mistakes.
When his grades began to decline, Yates took action. He studied his failures, and more effectively explored resources on campus such as free tutoring sessions, met with professors, and began to shadow more successful students.
“I learned to sit back and observe,” Yates says. “This student earned an A+ on that exam, and I earned a C-. What did they do differently that led to their success that I did not do? If it meant studying extra hours, I did it. If it meant joining a study group, I did it.”
The one constant was the 21st Century Scholars program. Yates made sure to maintain his eligibility each year and became a leader, serving as president of ISU’s 21st Century Scholars student organization before graduating in 2010.
The program helped Yates eliminate any academic debt, which has been one way that he has been able to continue his education. He has earned five professional healthcare certifications and is starting a master’s degree in human services. He and his wife, Jacque, are parents to two children, Jackson and Josephina, and they have started a family ministry to help others.
He also serves as a mentor for the 21st Century Scholars Alumni Mentorship program.
“I have many individuals to credit for my many achievements but my mother, she gets credited first,” he said. “We are raising our kids with those same core values, but with more opportunities. It’s such a blessing.”
His advice? “Nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity. If you are fortunate to receive the 21st Century Scholarship, move mountains to keep it,” he said. “Having that scholarship will reduce or even eliminate your academic debt and stress in the future.”
Understand the Return on Your College Investment
An investment in higher education may be the smartest purchase Hoosiers ever make. The value of a college education is in more opportunities, higher earnings, and greater job security.
You can take a deeper dive into what this means to you at the Indiana Commission for Higher Education (in.gov/che) Return on Investment Report. Select a college, degree, program area, typical wages, now and into the future. What you study matters more than where you study, and the payoff for some degrees might be longer than others. It pays to look at job market demand when choosing a major.