By Lindsey Ziliak Kokomo Tribune
---- — When Steve Daily taught at Haworth High School in the 1970s, he couldn’t fathom a day when manufacturing jobs in the area would be in short supply.
So when his students at the time asked why they needed the English class he taught, he didn’t have an answer.
He knew those kids would graduate and get factory jobs that paid more than his salary as a teacher.
Now, as chancellor of Ivy Tech Community College Kokomo Region some 40 years later, he’s found the answer.
Nearly two-thirds of jobs today require some kind of postsecondary training. That includes manufacturing jobs.
But Indiana ranks 42nd in the nation for the number of adults with postsecondary credentials.
Daily has joined forces with a growing number of area educators, businesses, pastors and nonprofits to form the Howard County Career Success Coalition.
They are tasked with increasing the number of area youth who not only go to college or vocational school but are successful when they do.
They set one major goal in their first year: increase the number of high school seniors in the county who filled out federal financial aid forms. After all, students who complete the form and receive aid from the federal government are more likely to enroll in college, members said.
They had modest success.
Fifty-six percent of this year’s Kokomo High School seniors filled out the FAFSA before graduating — a 6 percent increase over the year before.
Every other Howard County high school increased its completion rates by 3 percent.
The group’s 39 member organizations made that happen, and it earned them recognition from the Indiana Commission on Higher Education.
Commissioner Teresa Lubbers Wednesday declared Howard County a “college success county.”
She and others warned that it’s not time to declare victory yet.
“We’ve spent a great deal of money, effort and time telling our young people about the importance of education,” Daily said. “Today, I’d like to say that message is building momentum, it’s having an impact. But it’s not happening nearly fast enough.”
The number of students attending college is on the rise. But the number on pace to graduate on time remains low — especially among students who earned the Core 40 and general diplomas and those who are 21st Century Scholars.
Students need to earn an average of 30 credit hours per year to graduate on time.
Howard County’s 2011 graduates who received an honors diploma fell just short of that goal last year. They earned an average of 28.29 credits during their freshman year of college, according to the commission’s latest College Readiness Reports.
That number goes way down for those students holding a Core 40 or general diploma. They earned an average of 16.29 and 7.23 credits respectively.
That number is 16.34 for 21st Century Scholars.
Those student populations also seem to struggle more academically.
Howard County graduates holding an honors diploma finished their freshman year of college with an average GPA of 3.1.
The average GPA for those with Core 40 diplomas was 2.1, and it was 1.5 for those holding general diplomas.
The county’s 21st Century Scholars didn’t fare much better. Their average freshman-year GPA was 1.9.
That begs the question: Are the state’s high school standards too low?
Lubbers doesn’t think so.
“If the students could master the standards, the standards in and of themselves would be sufficient,” she said.
No one ever said a general diploma would prepare students for college, she said.
But does the Core 40 diploma prepare them? That’s still up in the air.
“We still have not been able to say whether [those students] are ready,” Lubbers said.
Higher education officials are finally working with high schools to help them understand what it actually means to be college ready, Lubbers said. Even getting to that point was difficult, she said.
The state will soon be launching new standards for its 21st Century Scholars that should start boosting college completion rates.
Scholars will soon be required to maintain a higher high school GPA – a 2.5 instead of 2.0 – and get workplace experience, apply to college and go on a college visit before they graduate.
They will receive help from mentors along the way.
“We can then extrapolate what we learn to other student populations,” she said.
Amy Parraga, a 21st Century Scholars support site coordinator for the area, said she will call on the Howard County College and Career Success Coalition to help students maintain the new standards.
They’re going to be tough for this population, she said. But the standards are necessary. They’re tied directly to college success, she said.
That’s something these scholars desperately need.
“We’ve put so many kids in college, but they’re not coming out on the other end,” she said.
Several coalition members have stepped up to offer their help and services already. Some have agreed to take groups of kids on college visits.
That will make all the difference, she said. There are about 1,500 21st Century Scholars in Howard County, and she’s the only staff member serving this area. She can’t get to all of the kids on her own.
Even if pastors sit down and talk with students in their youth groups, it will help, she said.
That’s where having a large member base in the coalition helps.
“Their minister now knows what we’re doing,” she said. “We’ve got a better chance of reaching that student’s circle.”
Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune education reporter, can be reached at 765-454-8585 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TERMS TO KNOW Indiana's Core 40 diploma is the academic foundation all students need to succeed in college, apprenticeship programs, military training and the workforce, according to the Indiana Department of Education. Students have to go through an opt-out process involving parental consent to graduate with the general diploma, the state's most basic diploma. The highest-level diploma type is the academic honors diploma. It requires students to earn additional math, language and fine arts credits and take Advanced Placement or dual credit college courses. The 21st Century Scholars program provides full-tuition college scholarships for economically disadvantaged students in Indiana if those students meet certain requirements in high school.