Aligning Social Action: In Southern Indiana, Education Matters

This post is part of the #CF100 Series of blog posts. The Council on Foundations is marking the 100th anniversary of the nation’s first community foundation, The Cleveland Foundation, by highlighting the roles of community foundations with this series.

See where it all began at our
Fall Conference for Community Foundations in Cleveland this October!

In southeast Indiana, bordering the Ohio River across from Louisville, Kentucky, only 25% of the workforce has an associate’s, bachelor’s, or professional degree, compared to 38% nationally. Yet one in four – over 40,000 people – of the region’s adult workers has earned some college credits. To the community foundations that serve this region, those 40,000 people represent an opportunity to increase the economic advantages of our communities, lure new businesses to our region, and enhance the quality of life for this and future generations.

Realizing the need for a coordinated and focused effort to increase the region’s attainment numbers, the Education Matters Southern Indiana (EMSI) initiative was organized in 2012 by the community foundations that serve the five county region of Clark, Floyd, Harrison, Scott and Washington counties to focus solely on adults age 25 and older with some college but no degree. The Community Foundation of Southern Indiana (CFSI), Harrison County Community Foundation, Scott County Community Foundation and Washington County Community Foundation came together in an effort to align social action to address our region’s low education attainment numbers because we understood that while we may not be experts on post-secondary education, we are experts at bringing together the right people at the right time to impact a community issue.

Over the last two years these four organizations have collaborated by pooling resources and building a strong coalition that has helped connect the key stakeholders in education, business and economic advancement through regional convenings and county-specific roundtables focused on identifying the issues facing educational attainment in our region for adults with some college but no degree. Through these convenings, the community foundation coalition group has identified four critical ways these adults could be supported to complete their education or certificate, including:

  1. Establish a post-secondary attainment culture through building awareness and messaging appropriately to this population;
  2. Coordinate an effective mentor program for returning adult students;
  3. Develop a comprehensive “one stop shop” information center of financial aid assistance, transcript assessment and related information;
  4. Provide convenient adult learner-friendly programs.

Already, regional campuses are speaking about joint offerings and credits, the peer mentoring program is underway with a regional framework but county-specific distinctions and scholarships for this population are available at each of the foundations. In order to continue our success with the Education Matters Southern Indiana initiative the four community foundations serving southeastern Indiana have pledged continued financial and in-kind support for the collaboration and are bringing together key funders locally and nationally to support EMSI’s mission. With their support and that of the key stakeholders in our region, over the next five years, the Education Matters Southern Indiana initiative will work to increase our region’s attainment numbers by 25% (10,000 people).

One of the tenets of being an effective community foundation is to address key issues facing our community and, when appropriate, to provide leadership on these issues. Through this process with EMSI, the community foundations have learned that aligning social action isn’t always easy, but it is critical to the work we do and the communities we serve. Acting independently, our impact is limited, but through collaboration, pooling resources, connecting and coordinating our efforts with the stakeholders, this initiative started by the community foundations in Southern Indiana will increase the number of adults in our region with a post-secondary degree or certification. And by doing so, together we will strengthen our workforce, improve the economic advantages in our region and enhance the quality of life for this and future generations.

Linda S. Speed is President and CEO, Community Foundation of Southern Indiana.

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