Mark Bennett: Guiding Low-Income Hoosiers Toward College Completion Could Transform Economy

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Posted by mila adamovica on

Like a crystal ball, two statistics reveal Indiana’s economic future.

Political leaders rarely mention the numbers’ significance and focus instead on the state’s business-friendly tax and regulation policies.

Yet, the power of those two intertwined statistics transcends the others. When it comes to the chances of average Hoosiers seeing an improvement in their quality of life, those two stats are bottom-line. The rest is just details.

The first involves education levels. Indiana ranked 43rd in the percentage of its population holding at least a college bachelor’s degree in 2011, according to the Indiana Business Research Center.

The second involves incomes. Indiana ranked 40th in per-capita income among its residents that same year.

Lowly rankings in those two statistical economic categories aren’t a coincidence. Indiana needs more of its young people to finish college.

An initiative by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education could lead to an crucial increase in the number of college graduates from low-income backgrounds. The “college success coaching” program emerged from a pilot project conducted last year at Indiana State University. ISU contracted with a company, InsideTrack, to provide academic coaches for 1,000 freshmen in the 2013-14 collegiate year. The coaches kept in contact with the students by telephone every two weeks, listening to their worries, answering questions, guiding them to on-campus services, helping them set goals, and encouraging them to involve themselves in activities.

It worked well, said Josh Powers, ISU’s associate vice president for student success.

So the state commission used a $2.4-million grant from USA Funds, a nonprofit philanthropic and policy organization in Indianapolis, to implement the college success coaching plan on a more statewide basis, offering that assistance to 2,500 incoming freshman this fall at ISU, IUPUI and Ivy Tech Community College campuses.

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