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Column: Broaden definition of college, update strategies to meet workplace needs

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As we prepare to celebrate the birthday of America’s greatest president, his wisdom can help Hoosier youth prepare for an important deadline vital to their academic and economic opportunities.

We remember Abraham Lincoln for ending slavery; and as the Wall Street Journal recently noted, Lincoln believed in economic opportunity for all people. The American economic system, Lincoln said, provides freedom and liberty to support yourself and pursue prosperity.

“This is the just and generous and prosperous system which opens the way to all, gives hope to all,” Lincoln stated. One historian describes Lincoln’s belief in economic liberty that is uniquely American as “the right to rise.”

The right to rise.

Hoosier students are exercising that right as they prepare to meet the March 1 deadline for submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the standard application for postsecondary financial aid. The FAFSA is fundamental because education after high school is essential to rise in the 21st century economy.

The latest evidence: Indiana’s Department of Workforce Development reports that 63 percent of Hoosiers now receiving unemployment benefits have a high school diploma or less.

The path to rise economically varies based on each student’s strengths and interests. For example, the word “college” can be a four-letter word to students who do not want to spend four more years in school. Instead of classroom lectures, books and tests, many students prefer hands-on projects, models and prototypes.

These students have opportunities to rise within businesses that cannot find workers to fill well-paying jobs requiring a one-year

training credential or a two-year

associate degree. According to Matt Bell, president of Ivy Tech’s Corporate College, 40,000 to 50,000 jobs currently are unfilled in Indiana due to a shortage of workers with the requisite schooling and skills.

In response to today’s workforce realities, the Lumina Foundation concluded, “The widely held, almost reflexive definition of college –- a four-year, on-campus, residential experience leading to a bachelor’s degree –- is no longer sufficient. It’s not broad enough, not flexible enough, just not good enough to work for millions of people, or for the nation as a whole.”

Lumina cites a Georgetown University study revealing that students who receive a workforce certificate earn salaries 20 percent higher than peers who receive only a high school diploma. Some certificate holders earn higher salaries than 72 percent of workers with associate degrees.

Students always must be challenged and never “tracked” -– forced into predetermined career paths at an early age. Instead, students must be made aware of all of their postsecondary options, from one-year certificates to four-year degrees, allowing them to fulfill their right to rise.

“It bothers me that so many kids are going through high school and they don’t know what’s available to them,” said Brad Rohrer, who works closely with high schools, Ivy Tech Community College and Purdue University to recruit and develop workers for Subaru’s manufacturing plant in Lafayette. “Too many students are not aware of all of their options.”

Those options now include the technical honors high school diploma that can be earned concurrently with dual credit from Ivy Tech. Ivy Tech president Tom Snyder says students on this path will receive their associate degree in May and their high school diploma in June, with strong prospects for immediate employment.

Through “Jobs for America’s Graduates,” the department of workforce development is partnering with 72 high schools and after-school programs to serve low-income students at risk of dropping out. Nearly 90 percent of participants earn a high school diploma and move on to postsecondary education or full-time employment.

Conexus, a statewide nonprofit promoting the advanced manufacturing and logistics industries, is pilot testing a manufacturing and logistics curriculum, “Hire Technology,” in eight Indiana high schools, with plans to implement the curriculum statewide.

Employers also can help. In Louisville, UPS is using worker training dollars to pay full college or community college tuition for students who work part time for the package delivery company. State government provides UPS with a tax credit, while local government provides students with additional workforce counseling.

All Hoosiers have the right to rise. A broader definition of the word “college” and updated strategies among schools, workforce agencies and employers can help more Hoosier students maximize that right.

Bill Stanczykiewicz is president and chief executive officer of the Indiana Youth Institute. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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