Talent Dividend Work

Raising the profile of the need for degrees

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Things were looking good in Indianapolis a few years ago.
"The general trend in college attainment has been upward," says Monty Hulse, Director of Community Collaborations at the Central Indiana Community Foundation. "At one point we had actually achieved the Talent Dividend."
But since 2008, the numbers have been fluctuating, and earlier gains have fallen away. 
To get back on track, Indianapolis has identified independent college attainment efforts across the metro area and is using the Talent Dividend Prize to align and unify those efforts toward a common goal. 
"Our general approach is to nudge along efforts that are already underway, and try to connect them better," Hulse says. 
That could mean tying long-standing CICF scholarships to college readiness and retention; supporting the work of community organizations such as College Summit that work within the K-12 system to create a more college-going culture; and connecting statewide and national foundations to innovative work happening in Indianapolis institutions of higher education. 
At Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Chancellor Charles Bantz made a commitment in 2003 to double the number of baccalaureate degrees granted by the school in 10 years. Nine years later, degree attainment has increased by 75%. 
Bantz says that good data is key to a successful degree attainment strategy. Though initially focused on the "low-hanging fruit" of adult near-completers, a closer look at the numbers showed that most near-completers weren't actually all that close to completion in terms of credit hours.
Staying focused and on message is equally important, both internally and within the community. 
"We have found a very consistent and frankly aggressive strategy of promoting finishing in four years or less, and arguing for that, is really important to raise student expectations," Bantz says. "The best thing you can do to reduce your cost is to finish, and that is a huge factor for our students. They're worried about incurring costs they can't carry, but the biggest cost is to draw out your degree program."
Both Bantz and Hulse credit the Talent Dividend with raising the national profile of the need for more college degrees. 
"We are very focused on doing our share, and we have expanded to try to encourage others to increase degree attainment," Bantz says. "We've dramatically raised the profile of the need for completion, [and] we've focused on completing the students we have."
The city's Talent Dividend efforts are also bolstered by support from the Lumina Foundation (headquartered in Indianapolis) and the Indiana Commission on Higher Education, which are advancing the issue of degree attainment and engaging grantmakers in Indiana and across the nation.
"Even though we are the second biggest foundation in the state, and IUPUI is one of Indiana's three largest universities, we are small compared to these large, powerful partners," Hulse says. "The Talent Dividend is not always visible in this, but we work very closely with people who are very visible in lifting up this goal."

Writer: Amy Elliott Bragg
Sources: Monty Hulse, Central Indiana Community Foundation, and Charles Bantz, IUPUI
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