ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW: feeding the pipeline to higher education

A compelling effort to encourage young people to pursue their education beyond high school took place this week at Indiana State University.

The cornerstone of ISU’s reputation as an institution specializing in first-generation students has provided a gateway for adolescents on the verge of a pivotal decision in their lives. Their choice: pursue college studies or enter the workforce. The speakers at ISU’s first celebration of first-generation college students on Monday at Tirey Hall were first-generation college graduates themselves, meaning their parents had not graduated from college.

About half of ISU students fit into this first generation demographic. University staff told the 80 high school youth that ISU has the services and resources to specifically help these students succeed. They also told their personal stories. The daughter of a single mother with three children and a limited income became Dean of ISU. A Chicago native who didn’t have the money to go to college after high school, worked in retail for five years, then graduated and is now executive director of residential life at the ISU.

These speakers delivered a powerful message to the teens, who would also be the first college graduates in their families, should they choose to continue their education.

“I know you struggled. There were times you wanted to give up because we have students (at ISU) who feel the same, ”said Kale Walker, training specialist and human resources generalist at the university. But these high school kids shouldn’t let these struggles stop their aspirations to become a doctor, lawyer or public servant in their hometown, Walker added. “Please don’t let anyone take your dream away from you. “

This advocacy is very important in Vigo County. Only one in four adults (25.1% to be exact) aged 25 and over in the county have a bachelor’s degree or above. In contrast, 32.1% of adults nationwide hold at least a bachelor’s degree. On top of that, state leaders have maintained the goal for most of the past decade of having 60% of Hoosiers complete a two- or four-year college degree or certificate of qualification in the skilled trades. by 2025.

Currently, only 48.3% of adults in Indiana have this level of education or training. The year 2025 is less than four years away.

Two million Hoosiers need additional training or education to meet this goal and meet the needs of existing employers and the more than one million jobs that will open up through retirements and new businesses in the state, according to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education “Reaching Higher in a Strategic Plan on the State of Change.”

State leaders, colleges, and tech training institutes statewide should reach out to Hoosier adults in the same way the ISU has done with these Vigo County teens. This pitch should include tangible paths for adults without a diploma or skills certificate to earn one, with details of free or low-cost tuition offerings such as the “Achieve Your Degree” program at Ivy Tech Community College.

COVID-19 has disrupted the traditional pipeline of high school graduates heading straight to tech training or college classrooms. The pandemic has also driven adults out of the workforce for a variety of reasons, including the lack of child care services. And, the school and college-age population in much of Indiana is expected to decline over the next decade. All of these realities should reignite the state’s efforts to give Indiana’s 25-plus population compelling opportunities to earn a degree or certificate. These people are there.

As a speaker said on Monday, “Getting a college degree makes a difference. It helps you to have more confidence in your ability to guide your own life and to be happy in your life.

Young Hoosiers deserve to hear this message and have the opportunity to act on it. Their elders too.

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