Content sponsored by Indiana Wesleyan University, Ivy Tech Community College, and Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township

In this week’s Thought Leadership Roundtable, leaders at Indiana Wesleyan University, Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, and the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township discuss the programs their schools have implemented to increase access to education and boost workforce readiness.

Research shows that students want to pursue higher education, but they have concerns about how to pay for it. How are your institutions working to improve college affordability for Hoosiers or steer them toward more affordable options?

Dr. Amie Anderson: Indiana Wesleyan University’s National & Global campus takes pride in offering accelerated programs designed to address the needs of working adults. Our courses are conveniently offered online in 5-8 week formats, with competitive tuition rates that are frozen and never change for the student. Students can choose from around 200 degrees and complete one course at a time, allowing for flexibility and personalized learning. We also have a generous transfer policy, and our programs are stackable, meaning that one degree can seamlessly transition into another, saving both time and money. We also collaborate with employers, businesses, and K-12 organizations to provide discounts, assess prior learning credits, honor transfer credits, and create unique pathways for employees to pursue licensure and degrees at reduced time and cost. For example, we have a transition to teaching program that allows candidates to complete licensure in as little as six months.

Dr. Sue Ellspermann: Ivy Tech is proud to be Indiana’s most affordable and best value in higher education. In 2021, we reimagined how we charge for courses and materials to take the guesswork out of paying for college. Students taking 12 or more credits per semester now pay a flat tuition rate, and our digital-first textbooks program provides all students with day-one access to course materials for $17 per credit hour. Many of our students attend Ivy Tech for free after receiving state and federal financial aid, and more than 80% graduate with no student debt. This is critical, since Ivy Tech is Indiana’s open access institution and serves a large percentage of first-generation, low-income and working learners.

Dr. Shawn Smith:  Lawrence Township is committed to preparing students for the next level. High school students can earn low or no cost dual-credits and/or stackable credentials through multiple colleges and universities, including Ivy Tech and Indiana, Vincennes, and Butler universities. Credits earned in these courses are placed on a university transcript and can be transferred to other colleges and universities. IU Bloomington has partnered with the district to provide the tuition-free Indiana College Core, a 30-hour block of transferable college credit. To reach this milestone, students take an approved program of study that meets the requirements set forth by IU Bloomington. It is not uncommon for a student participating in one of these programs to graduate with a nearly completed associate’s degree and/or the credits of a college junior.

In what other ways are you removing barriers to student success?

Dr. Sue Ellspermann: We know community college students—most often working adults with family responsibilities—face outside demands that affect their success in the classroom. We offer academic advising, career coaching, and free on-campus and 24-hour tutoring through to create a learning environment that fosters student success. Our IvyCares program focuses on connecting students with campus and community support—such as transportation, food, childcare, technology access or mental health care—throughout their academic journey. The Ivy Tech Foundation, the largest community college foundation in the country, provides millions of dollars each year in scholarships and emergency aid.

Dr. Shawn Smith: Now in its 10th year, Lawrence Advance Academy is built around the premise that in education, one size does not fit all. Available to students from both Lawrence Central and Lawrence North high schools, this alternative-setting high school provides an academic curriculum that combines teacher-led and online classes, allowing credit-deficient 12th grade students to earn the required credits for a high school diploma. Small class sizes emphasize relationship building and foster a supportive peer community. At the time of the program’s inception in 2014, the district had a graduation rate of 87.9%. In 2023, the district celebrated a graduation rate of 95%, with no disparity between racial subgroups.

Dr. Amie Anderson: IWU National & Global campus prioritizes removing barriers to education, particularly for adult students. We recognize that arduous admissions processes can be extraneous barriers and, therefore, work to streamline the admissions process where possible. For instance, IWU waives application fees for prospective students, helping to remove financial hurdles. The university also helps with FAFSA and financial aid, ensuring that students have the necessary resources to pursue their education. Additionally, IWU offers certificate and degree programs that are flexible, accommodating diverse student needs and life situations. We recognize prior learning, assessing credits earned toward degree completion. We also collaborate with other institutions, including Ivy Tech Community College, to facilitate smooth transfers. We make courses accessible to Hoosiers by providing delivery in a variety of ways, including completely online, face-to-face and hybrid format.

Employers across the country are having a hard time finding and retaining employees. How are your schools partnering with businesses to prepare students to join the workforce?

Dr. Shawn Smith: As part of our district’s Strategic Plan, Charting the Path to Excellence, the MSD of Lawrence Township seeks to increase the number of students participating in work-based learning experiences aligned with high wage/high demand pathways. This work aligns with the implementation of Graduation Pathways by the Indiana Department of Education. District activities within this initiative include expanding the number of business partnerships in high wage/high demand pathways, aligning staffing to support an increased number of students participating in work-based learning, and adapting the high school course scheduling process to accommodate a larger number of students participating in work-based learning experiences.

Dr. Amie Anderson: IWU collaborates with businesses in various ways to equip students for the workforce. One notable initiative is the Bridge Initiative. Through the Bridge Initiative, students gain experiential learning opportunities such as internships, practicums, and labs, all of which contribute to their academic journey.

Additionally, IWU forms partnerships with businesses, including school districts, to customize degree programs and pathways. These tailored programs provide students with a direct track to acquire the skills and knowledge needed in the workplace, as well as the necessary credentials or licensure.

Employers who invest in their employees often experience improved employee retention. IWU facilitates this by offering programs like STEP-Up, which includes discount agreements with K-12 employers, accelerated online degree programs, and stackable flexible programs. These initiatives empower employees to enhance their employment prospects, improve their life situations, and potentially elevate their social and financial status.

Dr. Sue Ellspermann: Ivy Tech is Indiana’s workforce engine. We deliver on our mission by partnering directly and intentionally with employers to build talent pipelines that support their talent and upskilling needs. Through our Ivy+ Career Link program, we identify early and frequent opportunities for employers to engage students through internships, career fairs, job shadowing opportunities, work-and-learn experiences and more. Our employer consultants support Indiana’s industries to design short-term skills training programs aimed at upskilling and reskilling employees for today’s and tomorrow’s jobs. Ivy Tech’s Achieve Your Degree program helps nearly 300 Indiana employers invest in their workforce by enabling employees to earn a degree or credential without having to pay for tuition upfront—an innovation that’s shown to increase participation in employer-sponsored tuition reimbursement benefits. The state’s Workforce Ready Grants also allow those who want to upskill to complete high-wage, high-demand credentials aligned to employer needs for free through Ivy Tech.

There’s a movement afoot to increase the availability of youth apprenticeships in Indiana. Why is this initiative so important?

Dr. Amie Anderson: Youth apprenticeships bridge the gap between education and employment, providing students with practical skills, credentials, and a pathway to successful careers. A well-functioning apprenticeship system can positively impact labor participation rates and benefit both students and employers. Apprenticeships are known for providing practical, hands-on experience in real-world work settings that leads to industry-recognized credentials and employability. Indiana’s youth apprenticeship model allows students to participate in paid work-and-learn programs that can result in a high school diploma, college credit, and an industry credential. This is why IWU’s STEP-UP program has seen such success working with states, and now in Indiana. This apprentice-like program helps employees towards teacher licensure while earning a living wage and earning a degree with teacher licensure.

Dr. Sue Ellspermann: Just over half of Indiana’s high school graduates will pursue a postsecondary credential after college. At the same time, Indiana’s employers need a more skilled workforce and a stronger talent pipeline. Ivy Tech is part of a statewide coalition of education, industry and government that is working to build a youth apprentice program modeled on the renowned Swiss system. We recognize the critical need to connect students with industries where talent needs are most acute—such as life sciences, health care and advanced manufacturing. A well-designed youth apprenticeship model will allow students to earn high-value credentials with upward mobility, pursue postsecondary education, and improve their career outcomes while enabling employers to build stronger talent pipelines.

What else is your institution doing to build clear pathways from K-12 to higher education to the workforce?

Dr. Sue Ellspermann: Research shows that students who earned college credits while in high school are more likely to complete a degree or credential on time than their peers who did not. Indiana ranks first in the nation in the percentage of Hoosier high schoolers earning college credit, and Ivy Tech is proud to be the state’s leading provider of dual credit and dual enrollment courses, which have saved families more than $109 million in this academic year alone. This is fully aligned to students completing the Indiana College Core if they plan to pursue college after high school and Next Level Programs of Study credentials of value for those who want to enter the workforce after high school. These offerings—in concert with more than 400 Indiana high school and career center partners, college and career readiness initiatives and accelerated programs—help ensure Indiana high schoolers graduate and earn credentials quickly and affordably.

Dr. Shawn Smith: With the implementation of Graduation Pathways by the Indiana Department of Education beginning with the Class of 2023, students are now able to individualize their graduation requirements to align to a post-secondary goal of enrollment, employment, or enlistment leading to service. Students must now complete the course requirements for a high school diploma, learn and demonstrate employability skills, and fulfill postsecondary-ready competencies. Pathways currently available in the MSD of Lawrence Township include agriculture, architecture & construction, business, communication arts, education & training, health sciences, hospitality & human resources, information technology, STEM, and transportation.

Dr. Amie Anderson: IWU collaborates with K-12 partners to establish pathways to higher education and the workforce. The National & Global campus offers a robust Concurrent Enrollment program, allowing K-12 students to earn college credit through innovative dual credit, dual enrollment, and correspondence delivery methods. This program facilitates associate’s degree attainment for K-12 students in a 3+1 or 4+1 program between IWU and their school. Additionally, IWU’s School of Integrated Learning and Development has introduced a competency-based Transition to Teaching program, enabling individuals with a bachelor’s degree to become licensed in as little as six months. IWU provides technology skills training for Hoosier workers via non-college credit certificate programs, including cyber security, via our Talent Ladder—all to address Indiana workforce needs. Recently, IWU partnered with the Indiana Manufacturers Association to bridge workforce gaps. The New Career Acceleration Program and Career Mobile Lab offer tangible options for communities less informed about higher education and foster connections between the community and higher ed.

Please share an example of a successful collaboration between administration, faculty and students to foster innovation.

Dr. Amie Anderson: Collaboration among administration, faculty, and students resulted in the creation of a Competency-Based Education Program for Elementary Teacher Licensure. It began with brainstorming sessions, followed by active listening to advisory boards, including input from students and community members. Recognizing a critical need for students to leverage their knowledge and skills effectively for licensure and K-12 jobs, stakeholders worked closely to design the program. Faculty shaped the curriculum, assessment methods, and learning outcomes to align with standards and best practices. Key features include online self-paced learning, educator guidance, and a transparent competency framework. Unlike traditional courses, students progress at their own pace, demonstrating mastery when ready. Personalized guidance from licensed-master teachers, and highly qualified faculty ensures success.

Dr. Shawn Smith: D3 is the MSD of Lawrence Township distributive leadership model. Distributive, Dynamic, and Dedicated are the three words to describe this approach to school leadership and transformation. D3 establishes defined leaders in a school who aren’t part of the administration. Teachers who have the talent, desire, and skill set to support and improve their colleagues’ practices are able to apply to become a “Team Lead.” Selected teacher leaders earn a stipend for their additional responsibilities and participate in a well-articulated professional development plan to ensure consistent and equitable training. There are no other districts in central Indiana practicing this innovative and transformative model for teachers.

Please describe a recent innovative program or initiative that you’ve launched within your school and what inspired its development.

Dr. Sue Ellspermann: In 2022, as our state’s nursing shortage was reaching crisis levels, Ivy Tech initiated the nation’s largest nursing expansion. We partnered with the Indiana Hospital Association and the Indiana General Assembly to eliminate regulatory bottlenecks that were forcing Ivy Tech to turn away hundreds of qualified students from our nursing program each year. Indiana’s health care systems provided over $20 million in funding to expand nursing facilities and to hire more nursing faculty, tutors and retention staff to ensure alignment in curriculum and instruction and connect students with mentors who are actively practicing. As of this spring, Ivy Tech has added 766 new nursing seats across the state and will soon be graduating nearly 2,000 associate degree nurses each year. Importantly, we also have increased pass rates on the NCLEX nursing exam.

Dr. Shawn Smith: The Excellence Design Challenge, sponsored by the Lawrence Township School Foundation, seeks to reward staff for a unique and innovative idea that, if implemented, meaningfully impacts the entire organization through efficiency, effectiveness, and quantifiable improvements. Included are a planning application, research and development phase, and complete application package. The winner(s) get a $20,000 prize.

Dr. Amie Anderson: The STEP-Up program is an apprentice-like program that is designed to help school districts identify school staff and community members to help fill the ever growing teacher shortage. The unique and innovative design of STEP-Up helps these low paid staff overcome the economic obstacle of education to earn their bachelor’s degrees and licensure while earning a living wage. After successfully launching this program in another state, we brought the STEP-Up program home to Indiana.

How do you approach recruitment and retention of staff to make sure you have engaged, highly qualified faculty?

Dr. Amie Anderson: IWU is committed to retaining engaged and highly qualified faculty through a rigorous recruitment and vetting process. Job descriptions undergo thorough review by supervisors and four other levels of approval to ensure they attract a diverse talent pool; offer equitable job responsibilities and pay; align with the institution’s mission, vision, and values; and prevent position silos. A multi-layered screening and interview process ensures the right hire for each role.

Dr. Sue Ellspermann: When our faculty are asked what they love most about their jobs, they consistently answer: the students. Faculty members join Ivy Tech because they are drawn to our mission of improving lives and changing the face and trajectory of Indiana’s workforce. At Ivy Tech, we encourage faculty to try new strategies, engage in national collaborations and research and share best practices. We are constantly improving and innovating. Ultimately, we are driven to give our students the best possible education. Our strategic plan, Higher Education at the Speed of Life, showcases our vision to meet students where they are and ensure their success by intentionally recruiting highly skilled faculty and staff who represent the students and communities we serve.

Dr. Shawn Smith: The MSD of Lawrence Township is unwilling to settle. Only highly-qualified teachers will provide direct instruction to students. With an internal system of continuous and job-embedded professional development, staff members have ample opportunity to hone their skills and to become teacher leaders in their schools. This model of distributive leadership allows administrators to truly serve as the instructional leader for the building and to support newer educators