College Connection coaches help put high school students on path to degrees, careers

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EVANSVILLE, Indiana — Harrison High School senior Amanda Kennedy aspires to be a nurse when she is finished with college.

Kennedy, 19, credits Ivy Tech College Connection Coach Carrie Feltis for guiding her through the post-secondary education journey.

On Tuesday afternoon at Harrison, Ivy Tech Community College and the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. officially launched and expanded a new College Connection Coach initiative.

College Connection Coaches are full-time Ivy Tech employees based at EVSC high schools. Their responsibilities include advising students through creating and promoting college completion and providing career counseling. Their goal is to work alongside high school guidance counselors, administrators and teachers to help students earn college credits during high school and to map out career and educational pathways, the Evansville Courier & Press reported (http://bit.ly/15x9JEY ).

Thanks to Feltis' guidance, Kennedy plans to graduate from Harrison in December and start at Ivy Tech in January. While her long-term goal is earning a degree in nursing, she intends to first complete a certified nursing assistant program. Feltis helped Kennedy fill out college applications, complete her financial aid forms, explore other career options to ensure nursing was her calling and took her on a tour of Ivy Tech.

"They (College Connection Coaches) help you a lot," Kennedy said. "They make you more comfortable about going to college, and you don't feel as stressed doing everything yourself."

At Tuesday's announcement, Ivy Tech Chancellor Jonathan Weinzapfel said two additional coaches will be hired this year to cover North, Reitz, Bosse, New Tech Institute and the Academy for Innovative Studies.

Feltis has been embedded at Harrison and Central since October. She thanked the schools, administrators and counselors for working with her to identify a group of students they believe will "really benefit" from the services.

"If we really break down the process, it's about identifying interest, exploring education and career options," she said. "And we do a lot related to goal setting. And I think the most important step is charting and navigating that path to help them achieve the goals because it can get pretty confusing sometimes."

EVSC Superintendent David Smith said the partnership between the EVSC and Ivy Tech is important not only for the students, but also for families and the community. School district officials know community partnerships are "incredibly vital," Smith said, to help students reach their full potential.

"This intentional outreach for specific career counseling will help students to be able to select the most appropriate post-secondary education for their career goals," he said.

High school guidance counselors do "so much that wasn't even envisioned just 10 years ago," Smith said.

That includes small group and individual work with students, scheduling, social and emotional needs, paperwork necessities for college and serving as test coordinators. The Ivy Tech College Connection Coaches will provide increased capacity at EVSC high schools to help kids reach their goals, Smith said.

By 2018, up to 90 percent of all jobs will require a postsecondary credential, Weinzapfel said. He noted Indiana has the 10th-lowest college attainment rate in the country, as well as one of the lowest per capita incomes in the country. And the Indiana Career Council estimates the state will experience a skills gap of 675,000 workers by 2025, Weinzapfel said.

"It means we have a looming crisis in Indiana," he said. "Anecdotally, I hear consistently two things from employers. The first is that society has done a disservice to our young people by telling them that they needed to go out to get a baccalaureate degree in order to be successful. The second is that these employers can't find qualified candidates, qualified job applicants for the hundreds of skilled jobs that they have available."

The solution for Southwestern Indiana, Weinzapfel said, is to increase the number of students earning an associate degree or a credential beyond high school graduation. This also helps students become financially stable and provides a highly skilled workforce in Southwestern Indiana.

"There are a lot of young people who may still be trying to find their way," Weinzapfel said. "We think it's our obligation, working together, to help make sure these young people are successful."


Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, http://www.courierpress.com

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