by Amie Sites Pharos-Tribune
---- — Just 21.76 percent of Cass County residents ages 25 to 64 have at least a two-year degree, according to a recent Lumina Foundation report, which used 2011 census data. The number rose 1.36 percent in the last year.
Only 16 other Indiana counties had lower percentages. Cass County’s rate is also below the statewide rate of 33.8 percent, a figure that ranks Indiana in the bottom 10 states by degree attainment in 2011. Nationwide, the average is that 38.7 percent of all working-age residents have at least a two- or four-year degree.
In 2009, the Lumina Foundation made a goal of having the nationwide average to 60 percent by 2025, a target it says the country must hit to provide the workforce needed for the jobs that will be available.
Cass County education leaders say the community can improve the number of Cass County degrees.
“In the community we need to have more business partnerships with schools,” said James Little, director of the Century Career Center in Logansport. “For an example, I had a meeting with a local business looking at partnering with the career center to appoint future employees.”
Little said the career center is trying to give students exposure to different careers and align the curriculum so they can get credit toward college.
Little said in the past year, 370 students took classes at the career center and 1,464 college credits were earned.
“That is $23,000 worth of saved money,” Little said. “We’re trying to get them prepared to go into a college program. Our grad rates were 95.7 percent for students who attended career center this past year.”
Tami McMahan, Trine University Logansport director, said she would like to see more employers offer tuition reimbursement. McMahan said the satellite campus has a master’s program for any student working for an organization connected with the chamber of commerce. Those students receive $150 off each credit.
“I would love to see more employers offer that and help the job progress,” McMahan said. “We would love to work with employers and help set up employment.”
McMahan said going to school locally compared favorably with the average four-year bachelor’s experience at schools like Purdue University, Indiana University and Ball State University, where the average cost of a four-year degree is $70,000. At Ivy Tech and Trine, someone can earn their bachelor’s degree in Logansport for $20,000, she explained.
McMahan said community partnerships are important. She also tries to employ adjuncts that are members of the community who would help network and provide employment for students.
“Out of 10 graduates this spring, I know of four who gained employment in Cass County,” McMahan said.
Trine University Logansport offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees. McMahan said there has been confusion about what Trine University Logansport is because it shares the building with the Cass-Logansport Education Attainment Resource and the alternative high school. She said this is the first time for a locally seated university to offer a master’s degree in Logansport.
McMahan said Logansport is in a unique situation because it has both Ivy Tech and Trine University available. The colleges have a written agreement and Trine University accepts all Ivy Tech credits.
“Sometimes there is a misconception that Trine and Ivy Tech are in competition. That is the furthest from the truth,” McMahan said. “My goal is when each student graduate with a degree they either gain employment or experience employment growth. We want them to experience this in our community.”
Another way to help this graduation rate is to help students determine earlier what they would enjoy doing as a career.
This year Logansport Community School Corporation worked with middle-school students to help them determine earlier what career path they would enjoy, Superintendent Michele Starkey said.
During the first semester of this year, eighth-graders took a college and career preparedness class that looked at specific areas of interest and what skills or degrees would be needed to achieve it. They finished the class before making their schedules for the following year.
As long as they passed the class, they received a high school credit.
“So many kids don’t know what the opportunities are out there and if they think they want to do something they have to look at how they can get there,” Starkey said. “Not everyone needs a four-year degree. That’s why we are so fortunate to have the career center so they can take different classes and realize what they want to do and how they can get there.“
Beginning next year, in a partnership with Indiana University-Kokomo, every eighth-grader will have a tour of IUK based on their area of interest.
“I think we need to continue increasing the knowledge of what it takes for students to get where they want to be and help them understand there are opportunities out there,” Starkey said. “That’s what we continue to work on.”
Amie Sites is a reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5150 or firstname.lastname@example.org.