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December 5, 2013

Lilly Endowment gift to help Indiana State boost graduates’ career prospects

A $3 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. will allow Indiana State University to build job readiness skills into its curriculum and expand its Career Center.

The gift is part of a $62.7 million initiative by the endowment aimed at helping graduates of 39 accredited colleges and universities in the state find meaningful employment in Indiana.

Indiana State will use its funding to expand its Focus Indiana initiative by introducing employment awareness early in students’ college careers through its existing Foundational Studies program, Freshman Transition course and Sycamore Career Ready Certificate activities. The grant also will fund expanded internship opportunities and support new employer relations staff who will work with targeted growth and high need industries.

“We want Indiana State to be at the forefront of innovation for connecting our graduates to meaningful employment in Indiana,” said university President Dan Bradley. “The endowment’s support will enable us to pursue student and employer engagement strategies more proactively, which is good for our students’ future and the future of our state.”

More than 85 percent of Indiana State’s undergraduate students are from Indiana and more than two-thirds of those students stay in the state upon graduation, Bradley noted.

The Endowment’s Initiative to Promote Opportunities through Educational Collaborations has been in place for more than a decade.

While progress has been made, particularly through expanded internship opportunities and more robust career placement offices, Indiana college graduates continue to have difficulty finding jobs within the state that are suitable to individuals holding a bachelor’s degree, Endowment officials said.

“Despite a steady supply of four-year college graduates, Indiana ranks very low among the states in the percentage of its adult working-age population that has a bachelor’s degree, and the state’s average per capita income ranking also is unacceptable,” said Sara B. Cobb, vice president for education at the endowment. “The endowment has become increasingly concerned about the implications of these statistics and their potential impact on the state’s future prosperity.”

A 2011 study by Battelle Technology Partnership Practice, which was funded by the endowment, found that Indiana lags the nation in the availability of high-skilled jobs and that many graduates do not have the required majors or other credentials for the high-skilled jobs that are available. The study suggested actions that colleges and universities could take to prepare and connect their graduates better to high-skilled jobs and help increase the state’s demand for educated workers.

In 2012 the endowment provided planning grants to Indiana colleges and universities that enabled them to review Battelle’s findings, study the problem from the perspective of each institution’s mission and context, understand more deeply the experiences of their graduates in seeking employment in Indiana, and develop school-specific strategies to address the initiative’s aim. Many schools also used the planning period to research best practices at peer institutions around the state and country.

“The endowment has seen firsthand that colleges and universities have the ability and desire to help improve the job prospects of college graduates in Indiana, and we wanted to give them the resources to be even more strategic and ambitious,” added Cobb.

Indiana State’s Career Center has already shifted its focus and is reaching out to students from the time they first set foot on campus, rather than waiting for students to seek its assistance, which generally doesn’t happen until they near graduation, said Nancy Rogers, associate vice president for community engagement and experiential learning.

“Most of our students are first-generation college students and can especially benefit from the expanded early outreach that this grant will enable,” Rogers said. “To our students, a college education means gaining access to upward mobility. This grant will help us enhance the already life-changing experience of an Indiana State education.”

The Career Center, through its new employer relations specialists, will develop strategic partnerships with employers in manufacturing; transportation and warehousing; health care; and professional, scientific, and technical services, said Darby Scism, the center’s executive director.

“We selected these industry clusters because we already offer a strong employment program in other clusters,” Scism said. “While we are centrally focused on educating our students so they can obtain positions within growing industries in Indiana, it is important to note that we will not ignore the other industries that also are significant to the health of our economy. We will utilize marketing materials to communicate with employers about Focus Indiana and its objectives.”

Indiana State expects the initiatives made possible by the Endowment grant to increase the number of its graduates landing meaningful employment in Indiana by more than 1,100 during the next five years.

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