Achieving Postsecondary Attainment

Emphasizing the critical role of talent development for regional economic growth, the Don Wood Foundation and Questa Education Foundation presented preliminary findings of the Achieving Postsecondary Attainment (APA) initiative to the NEI Workforce Council. With research support from TPMA, the APA study thoroughly evaluates the talent needs for postsecondary graduates in the 11-county region of Northeast Indiana and the challenges that prevent prospective students from achieving further education after high school.

The initiative’s primary objective is to increase the attainment of postsecondary credentials. This is crucial for the region to effectively address the growing regional skills gap, particularly in high-demand, high-wage (HDHW) occupations. The research reveals a pressing need, with the region’s demand for talent projected to grow by 5,600 HDHW jobs requiring a credential beyond high school.

Cost is one of the most significant barriers to postsecondary enrollment for high school seniors and adult learners. Although the study finds that substantial financial aid is available—with 97% of students in the region benefiting from some form of aid (including loans)—aid is difficult to access, underutilized, and often lacking alignment with regional talent needs. This underscores the need for improved systems and better communication of these financial aid opportunities.

Non-financial barriers also present a significant hurdle to enrollment and retention for current and prospective students. Barriers identified in the report include increased skepticism of higher education, with 84% of Hoosiers believing it is too expensive and 60% questioning the value of a degree. There are also disparities among race, age, and income levels, indicating systemic barriers and biases.

Perhaps the most significant opportunity is to stop the binary choice between college and the trades and reframe postsecondary education as life-long career development that takes place at all stages of one’s career and can be achieved through multiple paths. Presenting prospective students with multiple educational pathways to achieve HDHW careers and individualized guidance to pursue those goals is critical to developing and retaining the talent needed for Northeast Indiana.

The Don Wood Foundation and Questa aim to leverage the APA findings to form a Regional Planning Coalition that will catalyze regional action to address the findings and prioritize the following opportunities:

  1. Launch a comprehensive informational campaign for prospective students
  2. Create a regional network of practitioners and centralize a “first stop” source of financial aid information
  3. Enhance existing financial aid resources to maximize student enrollment and completion
  4. Improve systems and transparency for the use of credits and certifications earned in high school
  5. Complement career planning with transitional and wrap-around support for high school graduates to pursue further education
  6. Address cultural and systemic barriers for BIPOC and other underserved students
  7. Empower adult learners through improved access to guidance, support, and flexible learning pathways


The Workforce Council anticipates a role within the Regional Planning Coalition to help advance this work, joining other regional cross-sector stakeholders.

The Don Wood Foundation and Questa are planning multiple community meetings to share the full APA report. The final publication is expected by August, and the Regional Planning Coalition will launch in early fall.

For more information about the Achieving Postsecondary Attainment initiative, contact:

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