An organization that works to increase educational attainment in 10 southeastern Indiana counties has received $350,000 to further its efforts.

The Community Education Coalition has been designated as one of 17 national Talent Hubs by Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation.

The grant will fund a local initiative focused on increasing educational attainment of Latino adults and low-income adults in those counties, which include Jackson, over the next three and a half years.

Talent Hubs are an effort to accelerate the foundation’s goal of 60 percent of Americans having high-quality, postsecondary degrees or credentials by 2025, said Jamie Merisotis, the foundation’s president and CEO.

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Lumina announced the Talent Hub designations earlier this week.

“This designation is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the education, community foundation, industry — including more than 100 manufacturers and all seven hospitals — workforce, government and community leaders from the region working together for a very long time,” said Kathy Oren, executive director of the Community Education Coalition.

The coalition this year marks its 20th anniversary, and its Economic Opportunities through Education (EcO) Network has been operating for the past 10 of those years.

Talent Hubs play a key role as creative and entrepreneurial engines that power the nation’s economy, Merisotis said.

“For our country to meet the growing demand for an educated workforce, we must bolster community-based efforts that are tightly focused on increasing the number of people in cities across the country with education and training beyond high school,” Merisotis said.

The Talent Hub designation will do five things for the coalition and its efforts, said Jack Hess, executive director of CivicLab, a Columbus-based institution that is dedicated to the practice of civic collaboration and works with the coalition:

Create a unified goal to pursue interests around

Provide a disciplined framework for addressing the attainment gap

Help foster relationships with education partners because of Lumina’s credibility

Help secure funding

Put a Talent Hub community in a national network with peer communities and provide access to them

“It’s a catalyst for engagement,” Oren said.

Lumina reviewed 57 applications from communities for Talent Hub designation and a grant award, said Dakota Pawlicki, Lumina’s strategy officer for community mobilization. Factors such as the ability to create environments that attract, retain and cultivate talent were considered.

The Community Education Coalition’s past work to build an infrastructure necessary to increase postsecondary attainment levels, through a collaborative partnership with key stakeholders, factored into its selection, Pawlicki said.

He said two things stand out about the coalition’s efforts in the southeast Indiana region:

Its ability to connect with local postsecondary institutions and leverage state- and regional-level support to maximize the impact on learning, such as Ivy Tech’s Commit to Finish program

Its strong connection to the workforce and high-demand jobs in manufacturing, health care and information technology, and its ability to work with industry leaders.

The EcO Network, through its education partners, has dramatically expanded middle school through grade 16 Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education program enrollments related to advanced manufacturing and health care.

Additionally, access to high-quality postsecondary certifications and degree programs have been significantly enhanced by investments from the EcO Network, including the operation of 23 technology labs in the region.

Engineering and technology programs in Jackson County take place through Medora Community School Corp., Seymour Community School Corp., Brownstown Central Community School Corp., Crothersville Community School Corp. and Trinity Lutheran High School, Ivy Tech Community College, Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus and Purdue Polytechnic Columbus.

Dan Davis, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Jackson County and a member of the board of the Jackson County Education Coalition, said the partners throughout the EcO Network region have created a model for how communities can form networks of industry, education, economic development, government and private organizations working together to make real and sustainable progress in developing an educated and skilled workforce that is prepared to meet industry employment needs.

Jackie Hill, workforce director for Jackson County Industrial Development Corp., agreed.

“Because of the terrific work of the EcO Network over the past 10 years, hundreds of people and organizations have come together to better align education and economic opportunities,” she said.

The Community Education Coalition has raised and leveraged about $333 million over 20 years toward educational efforts in the southeast Indiana region, said John Burnett, president and CEO of the organization.

“I would think that every economic development person in the region would figure out a way to say, ‘Come to this region. This region has its act together with developing programs and an educational pipeline for today’s and tomorrow’s workforce,’” Burnett said.

The region was chosen in 2013 as one of Lumina’s communities for its Community Partnership for Attainment program.

“We see Columbus as a great opportunity to make scalable impact on a population that is growing,” Pawlicki said, referencing the Latino population.

Community Education Coalition officials said raising the attainment level of Latinos is important because it is the largest growing population in the region, and the postsecondary attainment rate for Latinos age 25 and older is significantly lower than for the region’s overall adult population.

Also, low-income adults are a focus for increasing attainment because that population represents about 32 percent of the region’s total population — more than 103,000 adults.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Oren said.

Other counties in the region include Dearborn, Decatur, Franklin, Jefferson, Jennings, Ohio, Ripley and Switzerland.

Talent Hub regions

The Lumina Foundation, an independent, private foundation focused on increasing learning opportunities beyond high school, has designated 17 communities as Talent Hubs and awarded each $350,000 in grant funding over 42 months to support an education initiative.

A Talent Hub is a community that organizes and aligns themselves around goals to offer and create multiple pathways to postsecondary success and work to retain, attract and cultivate talent, according to the Lumina Foundation.

Columbus/Southeast Indiana has been designated a Talent Hub, with the Community Education Coalition and its EcO Network providing the guidance.

The other communities designated as Talent Hubs this year are:

  • Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Austin, Texas
  • Boston, Massachussets
  • Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Dayton, Ohio
  • Denver, Colorado
  • Fresco, California
  • Los Angeles, California
  • Louisville, Kentucky
  • Nashville, Tennessee
  • New York, New York
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Racine, Wisconsin
  • Richmond, Virginia
  • Shasta County, California
  • Tulsa, Oklahoma

Local initiative

The designation of Columbus/Southeast Indiana as a Talent Hub means that the Community Education Coalition and its EcO Network will have a $350,000 grant, spread over 42 months, to fund a regional education initiative. The local initiative:

  • Focuses on increasing the educational attainment rate of adults with no college, specifically Latino adults and low-income adults
  • Seeks to eliminate disparities in educational outcomes from historically underserved and underrepresented populations in southeast Indiana
  • Works to reduce education gaps among low-income adults, Latino adults and all other learners
  • Has goals of increasing high school graduation rates, postsecondary attainment rates, the percentage of adults possessing a high school diploma and postsecondary credential and alignment with key economic industry sectors
  • Is a key part of increasing the region’s educational attainment rate from 30.6 percent to 35.2 percent by 2020. Doing so would result in an additional 3,000 credential and/or degree completions.
  • Seeks to establish a model to accelerate the educational attainment rates in the region and lead students to high-demand jobs in the manufacturing, health care and information technology sectors
  • Works with Ivy Tech Community College and the region’s adult education providers (McDowell Education Center, Jennings County Education Center, River Valley Resources)
  • Utilizes stakeholder engagement and community collaboration
  • Has strategic themes of talent attraction, talent development, talent engagement
  • Will strive to increase enrollments in WorkIndiana occupational training
  • Implement strategies such as Beyond Financial Aid of college campuses to support low-income students
  • Expand English Language Learner classes to meet the needs of the expanding Latino population

Community Education Coalition

What: Organization focused on aligning and integrating the community learning system, economic development and quality of life.

When: Founded in 1997 by the Columbus Economic Development Board, Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, community stakeholders and major businesses in collaboration with educators.

Where: Headquarters at 4555 Central Ave. in Columbus but serves the following 10 counties in southeast Indiana through its Economic Opportunities through Education (EcO) Network: Bartholomew, Jennings, Jackson, Decatur, Franklin, Ripley, Dearborn, Jefferson, Ohio and Switzerland

Notable: EcO utilizes three strategic regional networks, advanced manufacturing, health care and attainment

Pull Quote

“For our country to meet the growing demand for an educated workforce, we must bolster community-based efforts that are tightly focused on increasing the number of people in cities across the country with education and training beyond high school.”

— Jamie Merisotis, Lumina Foundation president and CEO

Author photo
Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.