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Seven colleges, universities collaborating to align with business

February 13th, 2015

News Coverage:

Seven colleges, universities collaborating to align with business

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

Since 2013, regional colleges and universities have been working together through the Big Goal Collaborative to align with workforce needs and to connect students to employers.

The Big Goal Collaborative, the education arm of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership’s Vision 2020 initiative, began convening the College to Career Action Team after Lilly Endowment, Inc. denied - across the entire state - college and university grant proposals to increase job opportunities for college students.

When Northeast Indiana’s universities reapplied to the Lilly Endowment, Huntington University, Indiana Tech, Indiana University - Purdue University Fort Wayne, Ivy Tech-Northeast, Manchester University, and the University of Saint Francis submitted a proposal to form a team convened by the Big Goal Collaborative. Subsequently, Trine University, Questa Foundation, Northeast Indiana Works and Greater Fort Wayne joined the group, and now, through CoCAT, regional institutions are meeting regularly to gather regional-level data and use combined resources to increase employer engagement.

CoCAT formed with two initial goals: 1) assess the degree to which regional education programs match up with northeast Indiana’s specific workforce needs, and 2) increase student connections with northeast Indiana employers through internships, co-ops, clinicals, and practicums.

The Big Goal Collaborative has secured funding from the Lilly Endowment to support the group, and has incorporated the work of CoCAT into its partnership with the Lumina Foundation, ensuring sustainability of the group without relying on local funding sources.

Educational Program Asset Inventory

A year and five months after its formation, CoCAT has made significant progress on both of their initial goals. This month, they are vetting the final draft of an inventory of education programs, which will help them visualize gaps in northeast Indiana’s workforce.

The inventory was completed by the consulting group Council for Adult & Experiential Learning. Per CoCAT’s request, CAEL focused on programs in target sectors, which are sectors of critical importance to northeast Indiana and which bring significant new dollars into the regional economy. These sectors are aerospace/defense, food processing, information technology, health care services, logistics, manufacturing, and medical devices.

For example, from this pie chart, it is clear that northeast Indiana has many more education opportunities in health care services than in logistics. A closer look at the rest of the report shows that not only are there more opportunities in health care services, but a large percentage of those opportunities are bachelor’s degrees, whereas in logistics, certificates account for the largest percentage of opportunities. Advanced degree opportunities in areas like supply chain management and quality assurance are lacking. However, I would caution that crunching the numbers can only take us so far. It will take continued collaboration between our regional universities and business leaders to determine the degree to which such gaps translate into missed opportunities for growth and investment.

To help bridge that need, CoCAT’s next step will be to look at demand for specific qualifications in target sectors using analyses to be completed by the Community Research Institute of IPFW. For example, the analysis might suggest whether demand in logistics will be higher for individuals with certificates or bachelor’s degrees in northeast Indiana in the future — a resource for colleges and universities planning future programming.

While collecting data related to non-target industries is important, emphasizing target industries first will allow the team to focus on strategies creating the most opportunities for students locally, and strategies helping local businesses fill their workforce needs.

Engaging Employers

CoCAT’s second goal was to create a region-wide database of local employers who are engaged with local colleges and universities. To start the database, each post-secondary institution collected data on the experiential learning opportunities of their students during the fall 2014 semester.

This month, they are in the process of signing an agreement that will allow them to share this data with the Big Goal Collaborative. After the agreement is signed, the Big Goal Collaborative will compile the data from all seven post-secondary institutions, add additional data about each employer, and then create a report answering questions such as:

1. How many students participated in internships in the fall of 2014?

2. Which student majors resulted in the most internships?

3. Which businesses in each target industry hosted the most internships?

4. Where are there opportunities for connection that are not being explored?

Using this report, CoCAT will be able to examine experiential learning in northeast Indiana. The team will focus on region-wide information and strategies to engage more employers, but individual universities will also be able to tweak their own strategies using this data.

While there are many other ways of engaging employers, such as attendance at a career fair or mock interviews, the team chose to focus initially on engagements that allow students to create the strongest connections with employers. In the future, CoCAT hopes to see a greater number of students engaged with employers before graduation.


Ellen Cutter is the Director of Community Research Institute at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. The CRI is one of IPFW’s commitments to promote the growth and vitality of northeast Indiana. CRI provides objective third party data analysis, facilitation services and policy guidance to community and business partners.
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