Going In-depth on Higher Ed Reporting

In case you missed it, it was announced yesterday that Indiana is one of 10 states to receive a $1 million grant from Complete College America. As the name suggests, the goal is to improve college completion rates — in Indiana and across the nation.

You can check out the governor’s press release. Seeing it prompted me to recall some of the interesting higher education stories I have had the privilege to write in recent years. I’ll share a few below — most relating in one form or another to the truly important college completion topic.

  • In early 2007, the article "Graduation Evaluation" revealed just how poor timely college completion rates are at many schools
  • The Indiana Commission for Higher Education’s grant proposal focused on redesigning remedial coursework at Ivy Tech (we updated the community college’s tremendous surge in "Growing Gains" in 2009) and supporting student success at regional campuses ("Breaking Down Walls" in March-April 2010 recently earned a national award for education reporting)
  • In addition, this year’s education issue featured a profile of Lumina Foundation President Jamie Merisotis. Read "Working to Educate America"
  • And, the person presenting the $1 million as the leader of Complete College America was none other than Stan Jones, Indiana’s longtime higher ed commissioner and the Indiana Chamber’s 2009 Government Leader of the Year

There is no underestimating the importance of education, no matter the level. It’s all about the young people of today, who will comprise our workforce and our leadership of tomorrow. The Chamber will continue its focus in its policy efforts, as will BizVoice through its reporting and analysis. 

Jones, Merisotis Offer Education Plan

Stan Jones, Indiana’s longtime commissioner for higher education, was the Indiana Chamber’s 2009 Government Leader of the Year (BizVoice story here). Jamie Merisotis is president of the Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation for Education. The two teamed last Friday to deliver a clear message to the Obama administration: get newly appropriated funds to community colleges that do a good job taking displaced workers, helping them earn a needed certificate in a timely manner and putting those people back in the workforce.

Inside Higher Ed has an in-depth report on their proposal. Here are some key excerpts:

While Merisotis and Jones did not set a time limit, they generally praised as models programs that take a year, maximum, to finish – quite a contrast from the two-year norm for many associate degrees – assuming students enroll full time. If anything, the model Merisotis believes community colleges around the country should emulate is a rather old idea – that of a traditional vocational school.

In a handful of states – Ohio, New York, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin – there are technical institutions separate from community colleges. In Tennessee, for instance, 13 community colleges offer associate degree programs, whereas 27 “technical centers” offer only one-year certificate programs in high-demand fields. These institutions, like for-profit trade institutions, focus on getting students a credential and getting them out out in a short period of time.

Jones: "There’s nothing wrong with directed choice. … I call it kind of back to the future. They didn’t invent this yesterday; They’ve been doing this [in Tennessee] for 20 years. Some of the rest of us kind of discovered it – that they were on the right track for 20 years. Block scheduled, cohort-based, integrated – it’s highly effective.”

Jones and Merisotis believe the government should encourage the development of short-term, quick-hit programs like this at community colleges around the country with the $2 billion Community College and Career Training Grant program, which passed as part of the health care/student loan reconciliation bill earlier this year.

Additionally, Jones and Merisotis say that Congress should extend unemployment benefits so that anyone receiving them can attend college, as long as they are enrolled full-time in a one- or two-year degree program. Finally, they suggest that the government create a new program of “education stipends” to offset the tuition and living costs of going to college, essentially making the completion of a program the “job” of the recipient. 

Tennessee Education Reform With an Indiana Flavor

The Complete College Tennessee Act is the name and the goal is a higher-functioning higher education system. And there are some Indiana connections.

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen signed the legislation late last month. It intends to send remediation classes to community colleges, make it easier for two-year graduates to transfer to four-year universities and increase the number of students who actually earn their degrees. Sounds similar to some of the components in the Reaching Higher plan from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

One reason may be that former Indiana Commissioner Stan Jones, the Indiana Chamber’s 2009 Government Leader of the Year, contributed to the development of the Tennessee initiative. Jones now heads a Washington, D.C. nonprofit focused on helping states improve college attainment.

Jones was quoted in the Chattanooga Times Free Press as saying, "People are uncomfortable with change. The more they hear about it and about strategies, the more comfortable they will be."

In a Nashville Public Radio report, Gov. Bredesen focused on the workforce advantages, emphasizing that more people with degrees will bring better-paying jobs to the state. He said: 

“Look, I don’t have some number in mind. I mean, I know that we are, as I’ve said, we are well below the national averages in terms of the number of college graduates. And our rate is not sufficient to catch us up. One thing I’m very clear on is, we’re not going to compete, in the long term, with states that have much higher rates of college graduates in the kind of economy we’re going to have."

The Chamber focused on Indiana’s Reaching Higher efforts in the March-April 2008 BizVoice. In this year’s higher education issue (in the mail and available online on February 26), some of the Indiana initiatives as they related to the relationship between community colleges and regional campuses are examined in-depth.

The Show is Over … Until Next Year

I have now been a part of 60% of the Indiana Chamber’s 20 annual award dinners. OK, even my 10-year-old son (who sometimes has math homework that just doesn’t look familiar; OK, it befuddles me on occasion) would nail that simple little math problem without blinking an eye.

What is the Annual Awards Dinner? More than 1,000 people from across the state coming together to celebrate business. After all the economic turmoil of the past year, a little celebration was definitely in order. Sure we’ve got our challenges, but this is a great state with excellent people working hard to make a difference.

No celebration is complete without awards. Check out the BizVoice magazine stories on our winners (videos now available):

  • Business Leader of the Year: John Swisher of JBS United in Sheridan, a success story 53 years in the making
  • Government Leader of the Year: Stan Jones, former Indiana higher education commissioner and a strong advocate for expanding educational opportunities
  • Community of the Year: Valparaiso for mixing public and private sector investment in improving the city’s entryways and infrastructure

The Capitol Steps, kings of political satire, made fun of all no matter their political persuasion. It was a simply hilarious show. If you missed it, mark November 9, 2010 on your calendars. It’s the 21st annual event, one week after our country’s midterm election, and we’ll have longtime journalist, author and all-around good guy Tom Brokaw offering his insights.

I’ll be there (assuming the Chamber still wants me) for lucky number 13 (60% of 20 = 12 for those who struggled with the math opening). Seriously, it’s a great event from start to finish (yeah, I know, I’m biased), but one you should take in for the experience. Trust me! You will enjoy.

D.C. Bound; It Should be Eventful

Put most of a state’s congressional delegation in the same room (it doesn’t happen very often), throw in some of the most contentious issues in years (health care reform, cap and trade, etc.) and it’s bound to be interesting.

The Indiana Chamber brings these pieces together Wednesday night in Washington as part of the annual D.C. Fly-in. More than 70 business representatives from across the state will be there. Typically Sen. Richard Lugar and nearly all of the congressional representatives join in for a roundtable discussion, dinner and an opportunity to hear from the folks back home. (Sen. Evan Bayh, by the way, usually prefers taking part in the second-day office visits).

The attendees will also receive updates from policy experts in the nation’s capital and hear from Stan Jones, former Indiana commissioner of higher education who went east earlier this year to start a new organization focused on college access and graduation for at-risk students.

I’ll be there to assist with the event and plan to let you know what’s going on through the Chamber’s Twitter feed and hopefully a blog or two. All signs point to the business reps being ready to speak up on how federal decisions are impacting their companies and employees in their local communities.

Lubbers to Talk Education With Chamber Members

Who has been among the most influential lawmakers on K-12 education issues over the past 17 years? Who will be guiding the state’s crucial higher education efforts? The answer to both is Teresa Lubbers, former state senator and current Commissioner of Higher Education.

Lubbers will address education issues at all levels in the August 21 Policy Issue Conference Call with Indiana Chamber members. The free hourlong event (9:30-10:30 EDT) will feature commentary from Lubbers and Chamber education expert Derek Redelman, along with your questions.

Longtime chair of the Senate Education Committee, Lubbers has been at the forefront of various education initiatives since first being elected in 1992. Her legislative duty closed with the end of the special session, which featured major K-12 successes as part of the budget bill.

Lubbers, the 1998 Chamber Government Leader of the Year, assumed the Commission for Higher Education role after longtime leader Stan Jones departed for a new position in Washington. Working with both public and independent colleges and universities, the Commission coordinates planning and budgeting for higher education in the state. Its Reaching Higher blueprint (read a 2008 BizVoice story here) is focused on new and revised initiatives.

Chamber members, register today for the August 21 call.