Skip to main content

The Journal Gazette

  • File Dontae Hampton gives his dance partner, Zoe White, a spin as they join other students in a mass salsa lesson at Ivy Tech last October. The event was sponsored by the student group ¡GOAL y Amigos! that aims to promote identity and unity of Hispanic students at Ivy Tech.

Sunday, August 13, 2017 1:00 am

Stirring up success at Ivy Tech

College cultivates ingredients to ensure success for students of all races

Kim R. Barnett-Johnson

Sometimes even good news reveals less-than-ideal truths.

For the first time in a generation, college enrollment rates for students of color have doubled. And while this upward trend is promising, it doesn't tell the whole story: There are still significant achievement gaps between African- American, Hispanic and Native American students and their Caucasian peers.

A statistical analysis conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau between 1940 and 2015 finds that Caucasians are more than twice as likely to have earned a college credential by age 25 than Hispanics. This disparity is slightly greater among African-Americans and Native Americans. In stride with these findings, students from high-income families are five times more likely than students from low-income families to have a college credential byage 24.

Any number of factors can negatively influence students' graduation rates. From financial stressors to family responsibilities, the pressures can be intense.

These same challenges are often amplified for students of color. A variety of research on the topic shows that students of color are less likely to have a web of academic and nonacademic support, experience barriers to goals that can deviate greatly from Caucasians, suffer anxiety once distanced from cultural norms and practices and, in some cases, face overt institutionalized stereotypes.

Nevertheless, everyone has a stake in changing these realities.

People of color will be the majority of the American working class in 2032, according to long-term labor force projections by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Wage stagnation and economic inequality won't be solved unless we enact policies and practices to raise living standards for the working class, which will require bridging ethnic and cultural divides.

As we collaborate to address this long-standing disparity in completion rates, one thing is certain: There is no “secret sauce” to apply.

The best approach is to devise a recipe for success. This has been Ivy Tech Community College's ongoing response to the concern, and it begins with using key ingredients.

The first ingredient is Information: We use predictive analytics, or demographic data, to guide decision-making. Looking at the hard numbers increases our ability to improve student outcomes. One application of this exercise is our Project Early Success initiative. At the beginning of each semester, we call students who have enrolled but are not taking the necessary steps to ensure their success. These early interventions are about providing trouble-shooting assistance.

Second is Connectivity: Most people struggle when they feel like an outsider – no matter the environment. To reduce this tension among students of color and also bolster a collegewide spirit of inclusion, Ivy Tech is increasing its number of professionals of color to better diversify the workplace. Furthermore, the college supports student organizations that specifically target ethnic student populations, such as ¡GOAL y Amigos! (Graduating Outstanding Achieving Latinos and Friends) and International Family.

Third is Focus: The college is at its most effective when faculty and staff are able to pinpoint which of our students need help, where they need help, and what kind of help will be the most useful. Beyond our standard tutoring and mentoring opportunities, we have expanded our wrap-around services to include free counseling sessions through the Bowen Center and the Ivy Tech Community Cupboard, an on-campus food bank.

Finally, Stewardship of Place: Ivy Tech's mission is grounded in the community it serves, which means being aligned with local needs and issues. As an example, the Unity Arts Institute will begin residency on our Coliseum Campus later this year. Both the college and the Unity Performing Arts Foundation anticipate that the partnership will provide a blueprint for how educational institutions and the arts community can collaborate. The regular presence of these adolescents on a college campus, many of whom are students of color, will pay dividends toward expanding their academic futures.

These ingredients represent just a few of our responses to assist students of color. Of course, they stand to benefit all students, regardless of their ethnic or socioeconomic background.

To close these achievement gaps locally, we must continue with an honest assessment of our present state and keep seeking creative disruptions that help change the status quo. As more than one scholar has noted, lasting change is a matter of attention and intention.

Kim R. Barnett-Johnson is vice chancellor for academic affairs at Ivy Tech Community College's Fort Wayne campus.