The Journal Gazette
Sunday, October 10, 2021 1:00 am

Questa boosting educational quest for disadvantaged

Emily Pichon and Ian Boyce

First, the good news:

Over the past 10 years, our state has made great progress in ensuring that more diverse students across a number of key factors, including income level, are graduating from high school than they were in the years prior. There has also been an increase in the number of students seeking short-term credentials, underscoring the value of multiple pathways for postsecondary education and career success.

This has not happened by accident or good luck, of course; it's a direct result of a concerted effort by committed people at all levels to make sure more of our state's most at-risk students are completing their high school education to give them a better start at the next phase of their lives.

This effort has largely been in support of Indiana's “Big Goal” from 2012, striving for at least 60% of Indiana residents to achieve a quality degree or credential by 2025.

Now, for the not-so-good-news:

The percentage of high school graduates going to college is at a 10-year low, and college-going rates for more diverse, rural and low-income high school students are even lower.

Only 49% of Hispanic students and 50% of Black students enrolled in college, compared to the statewide average of 59%. Only 55% of rural students enrolled in college. Just a third of low-income students pursued postsecondary education. This is according to the 2021 College Equity Report recently released by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

Alarmingly, these results are for the Class of 2019 and do not account for the effects of the pandemic, which exacerbated barriers to further education.

Without closing these remaining equity gaps and reversing some of the concerning trends outlined in the report, Indiana will not reach its educational attainment goals. Indeed, with less than four years before the Big Goal's target date, our state's education attainment rate sits at less than 50%.

Whether a certificate in advanced manufacturing or a degree in nursing, postsecondary education provides a path for individual and community success.

Here in northeast Indiana, it is imperative that our region work collectively and comprehensively to increase access to postsecondary education to better serve our residents and to build the diverse and skilled workforce that is essential for economic and community growth.

At Questa Educational Foundation, for example, our board of directors recently adopted strategic priorities that address the gaps in college-going rates among disadvantaged students in particular. Put into action, this means we will focus and refine our efforts to provide opportunity for students in northeast Indiana who face barriers to further education by reducing the financial hurdles that remain in the way of too many local students.

Coupled with academic preparation, career exploration and mentoring, financial assistance can close the gaps in college access and enable more of our local students – particularly those from disadvantaged populations – to enroll, graduate and pursue successful careers in northeast Indiana.

From our own experience over the past 85 years, these efforts pay off. Financial assistance, academic performance standards and ongoing support enable Questa scholars to enroll and complete their studies.

For example, Questa Scholars achieve an average graduation rate of 85%, compared with 63.6% for all students statewide. Just as importantly, about 67% of our graduates remain in the region to live and work, strengthening and deepening our region's talent pool.

Our experience demonstrates that consistently removing those key barriers – especially financial ones – has a material effect on the number of high school students entering college ready to learn and succeed.

Emily Pichon is chair of the Questa Education Foundation Board of Directors. Ian Boyce is vice chair.

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