This article was originally published in Indiana Capital Chronicle.
Less than half of Hoosier college students finish their degrees on time, according to state data — but some may soon have help from new “success coaches.”
The Indiana State Budget Committee on Friday approved $2.5 million to embed 31 success coaches in higher education institutions across the state. Officials also nabbed funding boosts for capitol security and a tornado-damaged state park.
During the program’s first year, coaches will focus primarily on getting pre-approved students to complete enrollment, said Michelle Ashcraft, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education’s (CHE) chief programs officer. And because many students drop out during the first year, the coaches will also concentrate on first-year retention.
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Later, they’ll extend that focus to overall student retention, on-time completion, early graduation and even graduate retention — keeping new graduates in Indiana.
CHE also wants to coordinate the program with the career-coaching provisions tucked within the state’s career-focused efforts to “reinvent” high school, Ashcraft told the committee.
The money will go toward salaries, benefits and start-up costs like training and office supplies, she said. CHE totaled the per-coach costs, then divided the $2.5 million request by that number to arrive at 31 coaches.
The effort will serve as a launching platform for institutions.
In their applications for the funds and associated coaching positions, colleges and universities must also include sustainability plans “for how they would continue these positions moving forward,” Ashcraft said.
CHE is laying the groundwork for more robust student support as Indiana anticipates a swell in the number of higher education-seeking students.
State lawmakers this spring authorized auto-enrollment to the 21st Century Scholars program. The scholars are low-income students who meet certain academic requirements in exchange for state-covered tuition and fees at Indiana colleges and universities.
Previously, the state said it was spending substantial amounts of money encouraging eligible students to sign up by the eighth-grade cutoff — and less than half did.
The first class of students to be automatically enrolled numbered 40,000 — double the previous year’s enrollment. These students will graduate high school in 2027, and the state will begin subsidizing their tuition and fees thereafter.
“We won’t see these students … for a few years now, but we do have many students who are in the pipeline,” Ashcraft said. “This would allow the campuses to start to build support on their campuses, not only to support current students, but to prepare for auto-enrollment to come in a few years.”
The program is based on a model used by Purdue University for over a decade to support its 21st Century Scholars, according to Ashcraft. As a result, Purdue has logged a 12.5% increase in the four-year completion rate for first-generation and non-white students, and a 25% increase for students overall.
Committee members lauded CHE for its efforts, but also said Indiana should better resource the high school version of a success coach: a school counselor.
“My daughter … missed two weeks of instruction — advanced placement statistics — because she was placed in the wrong math class, because the counselors have 400-500 students (each),” said Fady Qaddoura, D-Indianapolis.
“We’re putting all of these dollars to advance 21st Century Scholars and others to help students transition, and enroll in time, and graduate on time,” he continued. “But within the school system, we don’t have enough counselors to guide” students through the complex application process.
Security, park funding
The state of Indiana’s headquarters — the sprawling government center in downtown Indianapolis — also won funding approval for security upgrades. A recent security system review found several insufficiencies, according to the funding request.
The Indiana Department of Administration (IDOA) plans to use $2.9 million to centralize all security monitoring under one umbrella, and located at one site: the Emergency Operations Center at the Government Center South complex.
IDOA will also buy new cameras, new servers to host related data and install a mass-communication system to push alerts to all on-campus cell phones in emergencies.
And Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials are looking to rebuild McCormick’s Creek State Park after tornadoes ripped through the area in April.
“Our property was hit very, very hard in 2023 from devastating tornadoes. Those storms caused damage to infrastructure … and natural amenities,” DNR Chief Financial Officer Kirsten Haney said, as well as “loss of life.”
Haney said the money would go to engineering and design, cabin repairs, group camp repairs, comfort station replacements — restrooms and showers for campers — and more. DNR wants to finish the work by summer 2026.
DNR also submitted the largest single line item on the committee’s agenda: $100 million for a new lakeside inn at Potato Creek State Park.
The inn will have 120 guest rooms, a full-service dining room, an event and conference center, plus: a gift shop, activity rooms, an indoor aquatic center, lake observation deck and boardwalk, playground, twelve dock boat-slips, and parking for 250 vehicles. DNR expects to start construction in spring 2024.
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