State Scholars Initiative
Secondary and Technical ED

The OVAE Fact Sheet Series highlights efforts currently underway at the Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) to support the principles of the President's No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The principle(s) supported by this effort are:

  • Increase Accountability and Academic Achievement
  • Increase Options and Involvement for Parents and Students
  • Increase Flexibility and Reduce Bureaucracy
  • Focus on What Works


The State Scholars Initiative (SSI) is funded under section 114 of the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act of 1998 (Act), 20 U.S.C. 2301 et seq., which authorizes the Secretary to support, among other things, development, dissemination, evaluation and assessment, capacity building, and technical assistance with regard to vocational education to further the purposes of the Act.

On September 30, 2005, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) was awarded a cooperative agreement to implement the department’s State Scholars Initiative. Currently funded at $5.5 million, an additional $600,000 of federal funds is available upon successful completion of the first year. SSI also is supported by a $64,813 in-kind contribution from WICHE. Based in Boulder, Colorado, WICHE is a national nonprofit organization established in 1950. WICHE brings a wealth of experience managing national initiatives and federal grants, especially in the areas of access and early preparation for college.

WICHE’s role in the State Scholars Initiative is to fund and provide technical assistance, monitoring, oversight, and cost reimbursements to state-level business-education partnerships that encourage and motivate high school students to enroll in and complete rigorous courses of study. Research has shown that completing a rigorous course of study will benefit the students in their future careers, postsecondary education, or training. The services provided by WICHE benefit both the state-level business-education partnerships that it funds in Colorado, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, North Carolina, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia, as well as those that were previously funded by the Center for State Scholars in the states of Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Washington.

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Scholars programs are implemented in selected school districts by business/education partnerships in each state. Programs motivate students to complete rigorous high school courses that prepare them for college and careers. The program trains businesspeople to make presentations to 8th graders prior to selecting their high school courses. Business volunteers help students understand the career options and monetary benefits of taking rigorous courses. Scholars programs provide academic support, incentives, and special recognition to students. This ongoing support helps ensure student success in the more difficult courses.

Each year nearly two-thirds of America’s high school graduates enter college. However, more than half of them will drop out before completing a four-year degree. Many fail to finish because they are not academically prepared for college-level work. The State Scholars Initiative (SSI) is designed to prepare students better academically by encouraging them to take more rigorous courses that reflect the National Commission on Excellence in Education (NCEE) recommendations.1 The Scholars Core includes at least: 4 years of English; 3 years of math (algebra 1 and 2 and geometry); 3 years of lab science (biology, chemistry, and physics); 3.5 years of social studies (U.S. and world history, geography, economics, or government); and 2 years of a language other than English.

SSI is based on research that shows a strong link between the academic rigor of students’ high school course of study and postsecondary degree completion; the academic intensity and quality of a student’s high school curriculum means more than either a SAT score or grades in relation to degree completion.2 But SSI is designed to help all students succeed, not just those who want a bachelor’s degree. Today, those who plan to enter career pathway programs at two-year colleges and technical institutes are finding they have to complete rigorous requirements for entry into high-demand programs like nursing, dental hygiene, computer science, and engineering technologies.

In addition to receiving SSI federal grant monies, business-education partnerships are asked to support the state’s program through financial and in-kind contributions. Programs are encouraged to implement multiple methods to communicate the Scholars message to students, families, and school staff, including training for business representatives to make effective student presentations; summer student academies; school staff development; marketing campaigns; student scholarships; as well as incentives and recognition events. Activities focus on students in grades eight through twelve.

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Key components

  • Mentoring for middle and high school students in support of their enrollment and successful completion of more rigorous coursework.
  • Alignment of state and district policy structures to increase the rigor of courses to match criteria outlined in SSI.
  • Rigorous graduation requirements for all students.
  • Articulation of how high school curricula align with postsecondary curricula and workplace needs.
  • Partnerships with corporations and postsecondary institutions to create incentives for students to complete a rigorous course of study.
  • Evaluation of student outcomes, including student performance on standardized assessments, postsecondary enrollment, and remediation rates.

Participating States

Twenty-two states have received financial support through SSI to date: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia.

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Outcomes and Products

  • Community partnerships that provide incentives to students to take more challenging courses.
  • Smoother transitions between high school and postsecondary education.
  • Promising practices that can be shared with communities across the country.

Federal Register

Notice Inviting Applications for New Awards for Fiscal Year (FY) 2005 download files PDF (71K).


Press Release: Eight New States Chosen for State Scholars Initiative

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Related Web Sites

American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI)

Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education

Fact Sheet Series

2004 Edition


Nancy Brooks
Ami Margolin

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1National Commission on Excellence in Education,
2 Adelman, Clifford. The Toolbox Revisited: paths to degree completion from high school through college.
Washington, D.C.: U. S. Department of Education, 2006, xviii. Toolbox Revisited,

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Last Modified: 10/25/2006