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County forms higher-ed coalition

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GREENFIELD — Hancock County is the latest to answer the state’s call to improve college success rates among Indiana students, developing its own College Success Coalition.

Comprised of local business, nonprofit and education leaders, Hancock County’s coalition is one of 10 that have joined the statewide effort this year, bringing the total of participating counties to 50.

To become a member organization, the county had to establish a steering committee that will guide the organization’s local efforts to increase higher education attainment. The Indiana Commission for Higher Education and Learn More Indiana – organizations sponsoring the initiative across the state – encourage local groups to do so by partnering with community organizations and playing host to events to engage students in discussions about college and educate them about the process and its importance.

“There’s a lot of different groups doing a lot of good things for the purpose of college success,” said Alyse Vail, representative for the Hancock County Community Foundation. “But I think a lot of people are in agreement that some type of collaboration would be helpful in this effort.”

Collaboration is one of the underpinnings of the College Success Coalition. Not only does the steering committee bring together a variety of interests, but it also requires the group to sign up businesses, nonprofits and other community institutions as member organizations. Vail said the group is trying to sign on 16 partners before the end of the year. It’s a goal and deadline set by the Commission for Higher Education. If the group meets a series of goals, standards and deadlines set by the state, it will be eligible for a $5,000 performance grant. That money will be awarded on top of the $1,000 the coalition was granted just for forming.

The money will be stewarded by Skip Kuker and the Hancock Economic Development Council, the fiscal agent for the College Success Coalition.

“We expend those (dollars) on projects we want to put together,” Kuker explained.

The group will be able to develop its own programs, such has having workshops on completing financial aid forms, college fairs or field trips for students.

Joining the group also gives the committee access to an online database of activities planned by coalitions in other counties. Since the program has been around in other counties for several years, Hancock County’s group now has access to years’ worth of college success programming.

“If there is a unique program in (another county) and we want to replicate it…. we can take and copy that program so we don’t have to reinvent it,” Kuker said.

The College Success Coalition was started by Indiana’s Commission for Higher Education and Learn More Indiana two years ago with the hopes that all 92 counties would sign on and develop their own coalitions.

 “College completion has a significant impact on the quality of life and future earnings for Hoosiers,” said Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers in a prepared statement. “Rallying local communities around the common goal of college success is critical to meeting the needs of our students and our state.”

Indiana ranks 40th nationally in college graduates, with only a third of Hoosier adults having completed education beyond high school. Workforce experts project that 60 percent of the state’s population will need a college credential by 2025 for Indiana to remain economically competitive.

Leadership for Hancock County’s coalition will be provided by: Alyse Vail, program officer, Hancock County Community Foundation; Sarah Burke, Purdue Extension educator; Katherine Locke, member of Greenfield’s Board of Works and Public Safety; Dan Jack, assistant principal, Greenfield-Central High School; Skip Kuker, executive director, Hancock Economic Development Council and member of the Hancock County Education Alliance; Paul Galbraith, pastor of student ministries at Brandywine Community Church; Anne Johnson, Eastern Hancock High School counselor; Kathy Dowling, retired English teacher and guidance director and newly elected to the Greenfield-Central School Board; and Velma Wade, associate director of admissions, Ivy Tech Community College, representative to New Palestine, Mt. Vernon and Eastern Hancock high schools.

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