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College targets dropouts with new program: Ivy Tech offers high school failures chance to get degree, pursue higher education

January 15, 2007

Ivy Tech Community College this month launched a pilot program that allows high school dropouts to earn their diplomas while simultaneously working toward a certificate or associate's degree in college.

Intended to improve the state's labor pool, and as a lifeline to dropouts facing a dismal life in the earnings underclass, it will first be rolled out in Bloomington, Lafayette and Terre Haute.

The Indianapolis campus also will offer the program aimed at those 19 or older, although a date has not been announced.

The community college outreach to high school dropouts was part of state legislation introduced last year by then-Rep. Luke Messer, a Republican from Shelbyville. The state's new "Fast Track" program: transfers a dropout's previous high school credits to the college, with the high school paying the tuition. allows dropouts ages 17 to 19 also to enroll, with the high school's permission. requires that dropouts, while completing their high school education, enroll in a certificate or associate's degree program at the college. requires dropouts, before completing the program, to pass an exam that demonstrates college-readiness. "With 20,000 students leaving high school every year without a diploma, there's a need for this," said Carol D'Amico, executive vice president of Ivy Tech.

Just how many dropouts the 23-campus, 110,000-student college can capture is anybody's guess.

"That's one of the things we'll learn" from the pilot, D'Amico added. "What is the interest in this program?"

Messer, who now works at Indianapolis law firm Ice Miller, said Ivy Tech is wellsuited to take on high-school-level education. It already conducts extensive remediation courses for its college students who graduated from high school but lack competency in one subject or another.

That there still needs to be such remedi- work cooperatively with others, something tested by an institutional education setting.

Messer said the U.S. military stopped equating the GED with the high school diploma after noting that GED students tended to score lower on the Armed Forces Qualifying Test. They're also more prone to drop out of the military.

ation doesn't speak well of the state's public education system. But a high school diploma is still essential currency in the workplace.

Gone are the days when high school dropouts could land a job in a manufacturing plant and expect to earn substantial wages and keep a job for life.

Even the traditional manufacturing sectors increasingly are computerizing production and requiring math skills such as trigonometry to operate machinery.

Workers in numerous fields will need to continually advance their skills in the years ahead as technology advances. Often, that's through college training.

According to U.S. Census data, those without high school diplomas average just $18,734 a year in pay versus $27,915 for those who stuck it out to get their diploma.

Many dropouts eventually earn their General Educational Development certificate, or GED. An estimated one in seven high school grads earns a diploma through the GED.

But many employers want to see that students have the tenacity and the mettle to

Messer said he hopes the college campus setting whets the appetites of those finishing their high school diplomas there to move on to higher education.

"We really want folks to go beyond a high school diploma," he said.

Ivy Tech has been focused on cranking out associate's degrees in areas identified by state leaders as hot economic sectors, such as logistics, biosciences and advanced manufacturing.

Further tapping colleges

To support these kinds of ambitious economic development goals, House Bill 1347 also pressed Ivy Tech, Vincennes University, and other public and private colleges into providing accelerated learning opportunities.

The "Double Up" dual credit program allows these institutions to offer associate's degree courses to students who are still in high school. The high schools must offer at least two dual-credit courses.

Legislation passed during the last session also makes it tougher for students in high school to drop out.

Those ages 16 to 18 must get approval from parents and the school principal to withdraw. Teens can lose their driver's licenses and work permits if they drop out early.

Last April, former legislator Messer's own district found itself in an unflattering national spotlight regarding the dropout problem. Time magazine focused on the woes of a group of students at Shelbyville High School, where 100 out of 315 students who started classes together four years earlier weren't expected to graduate.

"You're never going to be able to legislate away all teen-age mistakes," conceded Messer.

But at least as far as providing a second chance for dropouts to redeem themselves, via the Fast Track program, "we're very optimistic about the potential here."
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