Wabash County Promise Becomes Pilot Program

June 9th, 2014

News Coverage:

County Promise Becomes Pilot Program

Posted: Monday, June 9, 2014 6:00 pm

by Eric Seaman, eseaman@wabashplaindealer.com

Although the Wabash County Promise has, already, established many highlights in its brief history, it welcomed two more this week, including serving as an example for a pilot program in three Northeast Indiana counties.

The Promise, a local initiative between the Wabash County YMCA, county schools and local businesses, organizations, churches and individuals that supports area students in obtaining post-secondary education, has officially expanded into three new communities in pilot programs and was honored on Monday afternoon by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

The program began locally within the past two years by spreading awareness of the importance of post-secondary schooling or training and expanded more by establishing hundreds of new college savings accounts for Wabash County K-3 students. In less than a year, the initiative has increased the amount of CollegeChoice 529 college savings plans for K-3 students in the county from 3 percent to 72 percent.

“Students who have their own savings accounts are seven times more likely to attend college,” Clint Kugler, Wabash County YMCA chief executive officer, said. “They feel excited about their future and are engaged in what’s going on in the classroom. We are creating hope and a future for these students and we’re eager to expand the program to additional counties in our region.”

Through a partnership with the Y and the Indiana Education Savings Authority, the program will expand into three new pilot communities: LaGrange, Noble and Whitley counties.

“We strategically located the first three in northeast Indiana, which is a focus area,” Kugler said. “It came down to geographic proximity, their demonstration of readiness, capacity and the need to tackle this. These communities and their leaders are ready to pursue this and are lined up.”

The Promise has also officially adopted Northern Indiana Regional Partnership’s “Big Goal,” a group of seven goals that aim to help the economic future of northeast Indiana, one of which is to increase the percentage of regional residents with high-quality degrees or credentials to 60 percent by 2025.

“If we want to have the kind of workforce that businesses need, we have to encourage our students to not stop their education with a high school diploma,” said Ryan Twiss, NIRP’s Big Goal Collaborative director. “We applaud Wabash County for taking their local success and expanding it regionally. Being able to scale successful programs like this will greatly help in our ability to reach the region’s 60 percent attainment goal.”

The local Y will work with each community to provide tools and resources to help streamline the enrollment process for students and encourage and educate teachers, employers and community leaders within each participating county.

Efforts will focus on developing communitywide and regional goals for increasing awareness of the importance of educational attainment and saving for the future. They will also place an emphasis on recruiting and empowering local community members to act as “champions” for individual students.

On Monday, the history and future of the Promise allowed the program, along with 14 other Hoosier counties, to be recognized at the College Success Coalition Annual Recognition Event at the Indiana State House, with Higher Education Commissioner Teresa Lubbers presenting.

“We are proud of our partnership with the current 62 county coalitions in Indiana and the opportunities they are providing students in their communities,” Lubbers said in a news release. “We are hopeful that local leaders in all 92 counties will see the exciting progress these coalitions are making and join us in statewide movement in the coming year.”

The recognition weighs heavy in the heart of Wabash City Schools Superintendent Jason Callahan, one of the three Wabash County superintendents who openly support the Promise.

“It’s fantastic,” Callahan said of the honor. “The Indiana Commission for Higher Education has been around and promoting higher education for kids for a long time. For them to recognize the Promise is significant.

“I also like it in that I feel like it’s streamlining several organizations. The Wabash County Promise came to be because of other organizations. It’s about connectivity with schools, organizations, faith organizations and businesses. For the (Commission) to come along and support it is another connecting point.

“It just means a lot and I think kids will benefit.”