“College region” is economic driver

March 13th, 2015

News Coverage:

“College region” is economic driver

Posted: Thursday, March 12, 2015 11:00 pm

People inside and outside of the region may not necessarily think of northeast Indiana as a center of postsecondary education. While it’s true that we do not have a “college town” like West Lafayette or Bloomington, we are truly a “college region.” Among its nonprofit institutions alone, the region has tens of thousands of individuals attending high quality postsecondary institutions right here in our backyard. And that’s not even counting high quality industry training efforts like the Skill Link program administered by Northeast Indiana Works and Ivy Tech, among others.

The number of students attending college in northeast Indiana exceeds the number of students in areas identified as college towns, but because we are a region it often escapes notice.

Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne as a public university granting bachelors and graduate degrees is the largest institution and is complemented by Ivy Tech Community College —Northeast, the public institution which provides industry certifications and associate degrees.

The region also boasts a diverse range of outstanding private, non-profit accredited institutions that offer more than 300 programs and majors including Huntington University, Indiana Tech, Manchester University, Trine University and the University of Saint Francis. Add to it the number of faculty and staff employed and the financial investments in these, both curricular and capital, and it is not hard to illustrate how important higher education is as part of our economic engine.

But to truly capitalize on this powerful economic opportunity, we must, as a region, focus on retention of the educated talent moving in and out of these institutions.

The private and public colleges and universities of the region have stepped up to respond to the serious challenge and ambitious goal of retaining talent. New programs were created focusing on the skills and knowledge needed in the local employment market. Accelerated education options emerged to help students gain this education and preparation. Funding has been provided to the educational institutions to develop efforts at attracting and retaining students. Physical changes to campuses have occurred, with new buildings and the implementation of new programs that open up opportunity without requiring students to leave the area.

These individual efforts are incredible, but perhaps what’s most impressive is that the institutions are working together to accomplish these goals.

In 2013, our postsecondary institutions began coming together through the Big Goal Collaborative, the education arm of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership’s Vision 2020 initiative, to form a College to Career Action Team to increase and strengthen students’ opportunities to have practical work experiences leading to careers.

Just recently, the postsecondary institutions have formed another action team under the Big Goal Collaborative that is specifically focused on addressing how to retain students at the college or university until and after they graduate. This group, composed of academic affairs and retention specialists within each of our institutions, is identifying strategies to increase persistence with educational supports and finding the funding to help students who face a financial gap.

Northeast Indiana’s Big Goal of having 60 percent of our adult population with industry certification, associate, or bachelor degrees is no simple task. We must engage students early and help them identify the correct path, whether that is to an industry certification or a more traditional postsecondary credential. We must also engage individuals already in the workforce who have not completed or have delayed pursuing further education. Both segments are critical to reaching this goal.

But merely recruiting and enrolling is not enough. To truly capitalize on the potential economic driver of this “college region,” we as a community of business leaders must rally around these institutions and these students to ensure that they are provided the academic tools, the financial resources, and the community connections necessary to retain that talent in Northeast Indiana.

Marc Levy is the executive director of the Questa Education Foundation. Questa is a locally developed organization helping to fund the education gaps for both traditional students and contemporary/returning students.