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New strategy maps out vision for IU’s engagement with P-12 schools

Dec 14, 2023

Since 2020, only 53% of high school seniors have continued straight to college after graduation each year — down from 65% in 2015. Indiana University initiatives and a long-ranging, university-wide P-12 strategy aim to chip away at this issue.

IU hosts more than 850 activities, programs or projects each year in collaboration with P-12 schools in the state. Photo by Jus... IU hosts more than 850 activities, programs or projects each year in collaboration with P-12 schools in the state. Photo by Justin Casterline, Indiana University

IU hosts more than 850 activities, programs or projects each year in collaboration with P-12 schools in the state. This activity occurs in every county, in 89% of Indiana school corporations and in 54% of Indiana P-12 schools.

A targeted P-12 strategy, developed in alignment with the IU 2030 strategic plan, aims to elevate and centralize these efforts, encourage and replicate innovative practices, and champion equity-driven approaches across primary and secondary education.

With the help of an advisory committee composed of university experts in state relations and workforce development, postsecondary attainment, diversity, equity and inclusion, P-12 education, and community engagement, the Office of School Partnerships has established five strategic objectives for the university in this space:

  • Strengthening campus-community connections through P-12 engagement.
  • Advancing educational access, inclusivity and equity through P-12 engagement.
  • Fostering resilience, innovation and success throughout the educator pipeline.
  • Elevating and communicating IU’s contribution to P-12 education.
  • Strengthening institution-wide coordination of P-12 engagement across campuses.

Building on success

While the new P-12 strategy lays out a vision for the future, IU has a long history of engaging with primary and secondary schools and has been ramping up efforts over the past several years.

In 2022, IU developed the Indiana College Core certificates, which are available to students in partnering schools who complete 30 hours of coursework across core competencies. In addition to getting a head start on general education coursework for college, those who receive the certificate also have guaranteed admission to any of IU’s regional campuses.

IU has also been creating and implementing college-to-career pathways for high school students for five years — something that has historically been more of a focus of community colleges and less of a priority for four-year institutions. These pathways allow high school students to focus on a program or major and take courses that map to a degree requirement in a discipline that is aligned to a state Career and Technical Education program.

IU Kokomo’s Tomorrow’s Teachers program, launched in spring 2018, is the university’s most established college-to-career pathway. The Grow Your Own program partners with local school districts to create a pipeline of future educators who meet local school staffing needs and shortages. Participating high school students take IU courses taught by School of Education faculty at IU Kokomo and participate in hands-on experiences in local P-8 classrooms.

Students in IU Kokomo's Tomorrow's Teachers program had the chance to check out campus life during a School of Education event.... Students in IU Kokomo's Tomorrow's Teachers program had the chance to check out campus life during a School of Education event. Photos by Shea Lazansky, IU Kokomo

Leah Nellis, vice chancellor for innovation and special projects at IU Kokomo and strategic lead for academic initiatives in the IU Office of School Partnerships, led the development of the program when she was dean of the School of Education at IU Kokomo. She worked with administrators, counselors and teachers from local schools as well as IU Kokomo faculty and students in the region to develop the program from the ground up.

“This program is as much the local school corporations’ as it is ours,” Nellis said. “We all agreed that it was important that credit be earned through courses taught by IU Kokomo faculty in order to offer students the opportunity to develop relationships with our faculty, staff and campus leaders, because we know what kind of impact that has on college-going rates, especially among underserved students.”

This was true for Maleah Winger, an IU Kokomo student who participated in the Tomorrow’s Teachers program in high school. Winger loved interacting with children but never thought she had what it took to be a teacher until she joined the program. The connections she forged with the IU faculty and the early classroom experience gave her the confidence she needed to pursue a degree in education.

The program also gave her opportunities to engage with IU Kokomo student groups, familiarize herself with the campus, and flex her professional skills via emails and presentations, all while still in high school. She credits these opportunities for her leadership role on the Education Student Advisory Board today. Not to mention, she’ll be able to graduate early thanks to the credit she earned.

“The access that this program brings to professional development opportunities is invaluable,” Winger said. “It can be so much less intimidating if you can start that planning in high school.”

Looking to tomorrow

In an effort to help school districts across the state develop a pipeline of future teachers, the School of Education deans from all campuses worked together to expand the education career pathway to all IU campuses. These pathways began this academic year and provide a rich opportunity for high school students to explore the teaching profession, develop work-relevant skills and earn IU credits in the education profession.

Similar pathways in other disciplines have recently been implemented or are in the works. The pathways at each campus are being designed with the help of community partners and with regional workforce needs in mind. Some of these include computer science, business, health care and exercise science.

While students can earn class credit, and in some cases professional credentialing, Nellis said the program’s benefits extend beyond academic and professional. Participating students receive access to an IU advisor — a pathway specialist — who helps them navigate college coursework, understand the benefits of dual credit and get a sense of where their future could be headed.

“It is not a question of if we engage in this work, but how we do it in ways that really move the needle and leverage our strengths and connect our P-12 partners to the best resources we have across IU,” said Mike Beam, IU assistant vice president for school partnerships. “All of these components are in our DNA in some way or another. It’s not only in our best interest to be a leader in this work, but we are called to do so as the largest state institution.”


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