Coalition forms to inspire college attendance, success

COLUMBIA CITY — The College Success Coalition met for the first time Friday at the Peabody Public Library. Representatives of many types of businesses and schools were present, including the YMCA, University of St. Francis, Whitley County Foundation, Lake City Bank, Indian Springs Middle School, Star Financial Bank, Smith-Green Schools, Indiana-Purdue University, Fort Wayne; Ivy Tech, and the Peabody Public Library.College, as defined by the Coalition, is not just limited to a four-year college. It also includes community (two-year) colleges, career colleges and apprenticeship programs. They are all equally worthy of our students.The college access activities proposed by the College Success Coalition are geared to help K-12 students prepare for and explore colleges, as well as apply to and pay for college.The Coalition’s goal is to increase the percentage of Whitley County’s graduates who enter college in the fall following their high school graduation and earn a college certificate or diploma within four years. The group will have this data in order to track Whitley County students. Those in attendance also broke into small groups to discuss whether or not “within four years” should be part of the goal. Some pointed out that many schools have lengthened their program requirements, so this term should be more flexible, like “within six years,” for example.“Coalition membership is open to all community organizations who care about the community’s young people, and care about the community’s well being,” explained ISMS assistant principal Jennifer Reiff. “Coalition members must also agree to implement at least one college access activity per year to help kids get to college and complete college. This one activity can be something as simple as having employees wear clothing with the name of the college they attended or that their child attends, during ‘College Go!’ week.”Organizations invited to join the Coalition are those focused on youth (like schools), parents (like parent-teacher organizations or booster clubs), community (service clubs, county councils), the economy (economic development councils, businesses and industry), and higher education (colleges, apprenticeship programs and trade schools).Other examples of Coalition member activities cited by Reiff include businesses and industries offering parents/employees a day off work to accompany their child on a college visit; the newspaper publishing a weekly list of merit-based scholarship opportunities; service clubs hosting a “Return to College” information night for county adults; retail businesses putting flyers about “Key Choices for College” in shopping bags; and hospitals providing a college information packet to all parents of newborns.Whitley County’s College Success Coalition has obtained $6,000 in funding. One thousand dollars was received Nov. 18 and is to be used for meeting expenses and planning purposes; $5,000 will be received June 15, provided the Coalition is in “good standing,” and that money will be used for activity implementation expenses. There are conditions that define “good standing”; for example, in the implementation phase, the Coalition must have its vision, goals, and member activities defined.Members will attend three meetings this spring to organize the Coalition, and then attend three meetings every year, make decisions about vision, goals, and budget; and implement college access activities. Steering team members will build membership, convene member meetings, facilitate member discussions, and manage coalition operations.J.P. Spagnolo, from the admissions department at the University of St. Francis spoke about the Coalition’s vision. He gave some startling statistics – 82 percent of children from families with incomes over $100,000 attend college, while only 42 percent of those from families with incomes between $30,000 and $49,000 attend college. Sixty-nine percent of whites attend college, as opposed to 55 percent of African Americans. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Studies, weekly incomes vary greatly among those who graduated from college and those who didn’t. Spagnolo stated that high school graduates across the country earn $626 weekly, while those without a high school diploma earn $454, compared with a bachelor’s degree holder, who earns $1,025 weekly, and a doctoral degree holder, who earns $1,532 weekly.More importantly, said Spagnolo, “Those who don’t go to college are seeing an increase in their standard of living.” Each one percent point increase in a region’s bachelor’s degree share leads to 1.6 percent and 1.9% rises in the wages of those with a high school education or less. Additional community benefits are that college degree holders smoke at less than half the national average, exercise twice as much, spend more time on education with their children, volunteer twice as often, and vote at a rate of 20 percent to 30 percent higher than non-college graduates.Those present broke into groups to brainstorm ideal student achievement data, ideal student choices, ideal community practices, and core convictions. These will be further discussed and finalized at the next two meetings. The next College Success Coalition Meeting is March 4 at 8 a.m. at Peabody Public Library.