GUEST COMMENTARY: Educational attainment is key for region, individuals

2013-09-01T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Educational attainment is key for region, individualsBy Thomas Coley nwitimes.com
September 01, 2013 12:00 am  • 

One of the central factors to developing and sustaining a valued quality of life in the Northwest region is educational attainment— the rate or proportionate growth in the number of our citizens who graduate from high school and acquire some postsecondary education or training. One Region 2012 report on Quality of Life Indicators cited: For the past decade, the region's economy has been "steady" even as the share of workers employed in traditionally prominent manufacturing and construction sectors has declined … The industrial past has given way to a more uncertain future that will require greater diversification, innovation and entrepreneurship and a workforce trained for a wider variety of occupations, particularly in service industries, health care and transportation."

Education, skill-based training and life learning will be the engine to help with the region’s transition to a growing economy and where our citizens can have pathways to employment and a sustainable quality of life.

As a community, it is crucial that we know who needs that education and for what jobs/careers it is needed. Within our educational sectors, it is most important that once a student begins his/her education we must ensure they complete their education creating a circle of success not just for the individual but for our region as well.

College attainment in Indiana is at 33.2 percent, ranking 40th throughout the United States. The median income for those 33.2 percent who attain higher education is $46,020 annually. Educational attainment levels across our seven counties are staggering:

Lake, 29.04%

Porter, 36.01%

La Porte, 26.92%

Newton, 20.99%

Jasper, 24.47%

Starke, 18.79%

Pulaski, 22.61%

For many Hoosier families, the traditional college experience is out of reach.

From the 2012 Quality of Life Indicators Report, we learned access to education is a foundation of a fair society, and that educational attainment is a key to Northwest Indiana's progress. The region's shift toward high-skilled manufacturing and service jobs means its residents now need not only a high general level of education, including analytical and communications skills, but also access to specialized training. Once education is attained by the student, we must do all we can to retain them.

Analyzing our Accelerating Greatness Strategic Plan, Ivy Tech has been able to identify many of the pitfalls students face. We have now created and are in the process of implementing plans to ensure that our students complete their chosen credential — technical certificate or a degree. Ivy Tech students at our Gary, East Chicago, Valparaiso and Michigan City campuses joined other regions in mandating student orientation for new students who registered for fall 2010 classes on or after July 1, 2010. Our reports show 83 percent of students in this cohort with developmental course placements were required to receive academic advising and enroll in a student success course persisted from fall to spring, compared to 63 percent persistence by a control group of non-participants.

As part of successful completion and educational attainment, service to our community is also important to students. College community service and noncredit programs assist adults in maintaining competencies and developing themselves as individuals. We know how service learning helps our students grow personally as an added value they receive in conjunction with their academic program instruction.

Our students perform hundreds of hours of community service every semester through volunteer opportunities and unpaid internships at local nonprofit organizations. More and more, the higher-education institutions in this region are working together to create amazing graduates, who in the process of achieving their educational goals also help to improve and advance our community. From our region’s perspective, the benefits of education accrue to different publics.

For example, Northwest students expand the region’s economic base through their higher incomes, while the businesses that employ them also become more productive through the students’ added skills.

I am most pleased that Ivy Tech is involved in initiatives to promote credential completion in partnership with other higher educational institutions in the Northwest. From dual credit offerings to developing a common general education core for transfer degrees with four-year higher educational institutions in our region, we are providing the type of offering that simplify degree structures and lessen the cost to achieving postsecondary credential.

We are also working with employers in regions to provide training that blend soft and technical skills. Manufacturing companies throughout Northwest Indiana have expressed the immediate need for qualified employees. The need is twofold; soft skill attainment and technical skills. These technical skills include basic math, problem-solving, ability to run measurements and computer skills to program machines.

According to the Talent Roadmap of North Indiana report produced by CPEG, the region is urged to “consider job readiness programs established to enhance the skills and abilities of current low-skilled workers.” Short-term training in stackable certificates for manufacturing education is a prime example of getting our students in the workplace with the needed skills expected by employers. Improving educational attainment in our region is a commitment that educational institutions at all levels and sectors are working together with One Region, the Center of Workforce Innovations and Northwest Indiana Forum, the Northwest ISBDC and the mayors and other governmental leaders. Economic development depends on a quality work force, helping all employment sectors throughout the region to grow and expand.

We all understand that a better educated workforce has tremendous importance to the quality life we will continue to enjoy, including economic development and workforce growth. We have made major strides in our region, but we must keep an eye on the future and how we prepare for the opportunities to come.

Thomas Coley is chancellor of Ivy Tech Community College Northwest. The opinions are the writer's.

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