Countywide initiative to increase college success

October 25, 2013

Dozens of local businesses and organizations are working together to help every person in Elkhart County acquire some education beyond high school, as a step towards work advancement. Each member of the Elkhart County College and Career Success Coalition, organized by the Horizon Education Alliance, agrees to do one activity per year that promotes education beyond high school.

Those activities could include companies or organizations offering scholarships, allowing employees to take days off of work to take their children on college visits, giving out flyers on other college success events, or hosting informative events.

"They don’t have to be major items," says James Kirkton, former Goshen High School principal who now oversees the Elkhart County coalition in his role as the HEA’s coordinator of secondary and post-secondary success. “Coalition members are creating a growing list of activities and events, both big and small, that help cultivate "a college-going culture," says Kirkton.

He pointed out that HEA has broadened the name of the local chapter of the statewide College Success Coalition to include an emphasis on careers, along with college. For the Elkhart County Coalition, “college” refers to any two or four-year colleges, apprenticeships, career colleges and on-the-job and military job training. All of those experiences prepare people with necessary career skills in a county that "lags behind Indiana and the United States in educational attainment," according to a study of Elkhart County commissioned by HEA and carried out by Hanover Research.

U.S. Census numbers show that in 2011, 79.7 percent of the Elkhart County’s adult population had graduated high school, compared to 87.3 percent of Indiana adults, and 85.9 percent of U.S. adults. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 201 1, the median income in Elkhart County was also significantly below the state and national medians. The percentage of jobs going to students with at least a bachelor’s degree, however, has been continually increasing, according to a study by the Milken Institute.

So far, more than 60 local schools, non-profit organizations and businesses have become members of the Elkhart County College and Career Success Coalition, but organizers hope to have more than 100 signed up by early 2014. Coalition members include organizations like Big Sisters Big Brothers of Elkhart County, and the Center for Intercultural and International Education (CIIE) at Goshen College. In addition to these broader programs, coalition members are also creating programs for individual students, such as scholarships and internships.

“The diversity of the coalition and the variety of events organized by individual members adds to the strength of the group,” say Stephanie Patka, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County. "When we all have the priority or desire for our children to succeed, they will, because we’re all working together to make that happen," she says.

The Elkhart County College and Career Success Coalition has much of its information, including a list of members, members' activities, goals, concerns and vision, at http://cgi.asainstitute.org/cgi-bin/csc/countyinfo?id=20