Key Education Transitions

Celebrating a Center of Hope for African-American Youth

Pat Roe, Strada Educaiton NetworkBy Pat Roe, Vice President, Philanthropy, Strada Education Network

In the mid-’70s, Indianapolis community leaders cited a number of reasons why African-American youth were failing to graduate from high school, not entering college, and falling short in career achievement. The Center for Leadership Development (CLD) answered the call to develop meaningful experiences to promote education and careers to students and their parents.

Forty years and thousands of success stories later, CLD continues to foster academic excellence for minority students. At the recent Minority Achievers Awards & Scholarship Gala, 3,000 people packed the Indiana Convention Center to see CLD award more than $3.2 million in scholarships to 46 local students. These students will attend 20 higher education institutions in Indiana as well as schools outside of the state. The scholarships also will support attendance at Indiana high schools.

One high-achieving student I spoke with that night, Zipporah Melton, received a scholarship to attend North Carolina A&T State University. Through CLD, she received assistance with medical career exploration, preparing for college, and preparing for the SAT. She has taken part in networking and volunteerism.

“Through the Center for Leadership Development, I have gained great leadership skills that will help me succeed in life,” she says. “I’m very thankful for this life-changing experience.”

The event also honored outstanding minority achievement in the Indianapolis community.

As amazing as the gala was, it’s just the latest success for CLD and the many students and families it’s served. Statistics for 2016 offer a snapshot of why CLD often is called “A Center of Hope.”

In its four decades of serving Indianapolis minority students and their families, CLD has demonstrated a commitment to transformative programming. CLD offers values-based, results-driven guidance and instruction from caring, local, college-educated professionals.

Through more than a dozen programs, CLD addresses the opportunity gaps that persist for young people of color. The organization supports students age 10-18 through services such as:

  • Career advising.
  • Academic assessments.
  • No-cost reading assistance and tutoring.
  • Licensed guidance counseling.
  • College research and selection assistance.
  • Success planning.
  • Internship opportunities.
  • Career assessments.

Additionally, CLD partners with 23 higher education institutions throughout the state to provide full and partial scholarships to cover tuition and room and board as well as equipment and study-abroad opportunities.

Dennis Bland, CLD
Dennis Bland, president of the Center for Leadership Development, addresses the 3,000 attendees at CLD’s Minority Achievers Awards & Scholarship Gala in March. Photo by Nicole Powell Photography.

CLD President Dennis Bland sums up the organization’s success in bolstering students’ academic and career achievement in this way: “For years the Center for Leadership Development has stood as an answer for so many youth and families. CLD stands as a beacon, a true Center of Hope, for youth and families throughout the African-American community.”

That Center of Hope for education and career success aligns with the Strada Education NetworkSM focus on Completion With a Purpose®, enhancing student success in college — or other postsecondary education programs — and careers. We’re proud to support the work of CLD to create the best college and career pathways for African-American students in our hometown of Indianapolis.

Key Education Transitions

This School Doesn’t Give Up on Struggling Students

By Roderick Wheeler, Senior Program Director, Philanthropy, Strada Education Network

Although the high school dropout rate has declined significantly since the 1990’s, each year more than 1.2 million U.S. students continue to leave high school with no diploma. As a result, approximately 7,000 students each day are giving up short of earning the most critical educational credential necessary for their future success.

It’s well documented that many high school dropouts face immense challenges throughout their lives. They earn less than high school graduates. They experience higher rates of unemployment, poverty and incarceration. They have much lower rates of labor market participation — in 2014, 41 percent compared with 73 percent for high school graduates.

Since 2003 an Indiana school has demonstrated significant success in getting struggling students, or those who have already dropped out of high school, across the finish line to their diplomas. Rob Staley, the founder of The Crossing School of Business and Entrepreneurship (formerly known as the Crossing Educational Center), sought to address the dropout challenge in his community by creating a state-accredited, faith-based, private alternative school that partners with public school districts to graduate their students who are struggling most, even if they already have dropped out of high school.

Staley, a former Indiana high school principal, says the impetus behind founding The Crossing came from some of his former students. “I would visit students I had expelled and who were now in jail and ask them why school did not work for them,” he says. “I would learn that they did not feel like they belonged or that school was relevant to helping them earn a living.”

As a result, Staley created an innovative school that seeks to empower struggling students to become contributing members of their communities through academics, job training and faith-based character education. His vision for The Crossing was to transform lives of young people through education, by focusing on both the heart and mind.

The Crossing model is designed to engage students as they develop their academic and job-preparedness skills. Half of the students’ time is devoted to earning academic credit. The Crossing uses technology-assisted blended learning and supportive student services to help students to master the required academic content for Indiana’s non-waiver diploma. The other half of the students’ time is spent in job preparedness training; the students are exposed to the world of work through the business development component of the job training program.

With support from Strada Education, The Crossing students gain micro-business experience by making and selling handmade candles.
With support from Strada Education, The Crossing students gain micro-business experience by making and selling handmade candles.

The business development course is a credit-bearing course that uses project-based learning, an experiential learning curriculum, and various industry-recognized certifications that prepare students to launch micro-businesses. The curriculum allows students to understand real-world business skills and principles by understanding how to operate and run an actual micro-business.

Students develop their skills in business plan development, marketing, profit and loss statements, and sales. Upon completion of the course, students are assigned to work teams and placed in local businesses. The ultimate goal is that students will become members of the workforce pool and be directly employed by a host company upon earning their high school diplomas.

The Crossing began with one campus, six students and two teachers. Today, it has grown to 25 locations, serving more than 2,000 students and employing approximately 160 staff members. It has contracts with 55 public schools. In the past four years, The Crossing has graduated 635 students, and nearly 80 percent have earned Indiana’s Core 40 diploma, without any special consideration. Among all of The Crossing’s graduates, more than 80 percent are either working or pursuing additional postsecondary education opportunities.

By partnering with public school districts to help them outsource their alternative education and dropout prevention programs, The Crossing also has found a strong collaborative business model that supports the organization’s financial sustainability and allows it to grow and advance its mission.

Strada Education NetworkSM is pleased to support The Crossing with a philanthropic investment to help expand the entrepreneurial and micro-business development program that prepares students for internship opportunities and entry-level jobs following high school.

With more than 5 million disconnected youth and young adults age 16-24 who are not in school and not working, our nation needs more programs like The Crossing that seek to re-engage students and prepare them for workforce opportunities and greater success in life.

Key Education Transitions

Shining a Light on Opportunities in College and Career

Daryl GrahamSenior Vice President, Philanthropy, USA Funds By Daryl Graham, Senior Vice President, Philanthropy, USA Funds

I often am struck by the many opportunities I have had in my career and my life, thanks to the college degree I received many years ago. And then I think about the challenges that today’s college students face — challenges that too often prevent them from enjoying the myriad opportunities my degree has afforded me.

That’s why I’m proud to have joined an organization so committed to ensuring that students not only have access to college or other postsecondary training, but that they also complete that higher education prepared for successful careers and fulfilling lives.

In fact, you could say I was a proponent of USA Funds®focus — Completion With a Purpose® — long before it became my job in February.

For 15 years I have worked to identify opportunities for grant making, sponsorships and volunteerism. I look forward to putting that experience to work both in the Indianapolis community, where USA Funds is based, and across the nation — particularly for at-risk youth and disconnected young adults.

daryl-graham-quoteI’ve long been committed to the principle behind Completion With a Purpose, that students need to understand their opportunities and follow their own surest paths to completing postsecondary education or training and succeeding at work and life.

Because where there are opportunities, there is hope. Hope not only for better-educated and productive individuals, but also for a better society in Indianapolis, across Indiana, and in other states and cities whose citizens understand and follow their clearest pathways to success.

Achieving these positive results for individuals and communities will require some rethinking, a willingness to embrace innovative ideas for higher education. We even need to consider the larger question of what quality postsecondary education means today.

Educational institutions at all levels as well as employers, policymakers and community-based organizations must be willing to work together to enhance the value of post-high school education. We must be open to evaluating data that show the best opportunities for success, whether those opportunities come through degrees from majority higher education institutions, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, community colleges, or through other forms of certification and credentialing.

And USA Funds already is helping to lead this charge for boosting college and career success.

In a professional life already filled with opportunity, built on the foundation that my education has provided, I consider my new role in helping USA Funds advance Completion With a Purpose to be one of my greatest opportunities yet. I embrace that opportunity and look forward to making a difference for students and their communities.

Key Education Transitions

Collaborating to End the Plight of African-American Males

Michael TwymanBy Michael Twyman, Executive Director, OpportunIndy

The plight of many African-American young men today is a crisis of major proportions. By focusing on four key areas, OpportunIndy is facilitating work to end the crisis in Indianapolis.

Daunting statistics
A report released at the 2015 Indiana Commission on the Social Status of Black Males (ICSSBM) Annual Conference noted statistics about African-American males that are daunting and alarming:

  • In 2020 the vast majority of jobs will require some kind of postsecondary credential. Black males face some of the greatest challenges to earning a high school diploma and completing postsecondary opportunities, however. Black males are more likely to not be in the labor force than they are to earn a postsecondary credential.
  • Too few black children, particularly males, are reading at grade level by third grade. Studies show that low rates of reading proficiency among third-graders increase students’ chances of dropping out of high school. And for black males, not graduating from high school is directly related to higher rates of incarceration.
  • Low education attainment rates among black males not only reduce labor rate participation, but also reduce the chances that they will develop and maintain core family structures and two-parent homes.

The Children’s Policy and Law Initiative (CPLI) of Indiana has noted that one in nine students in the state in 2012-2013 were suspended from school. Young black men are 3-4 times more likely to be suspended from school than their white counterparts for the same infractions.

According to a five-year estimate released by the U.S. Census Bureau in December 2015, nearly 22 percent — 119,075 people — age 18-24 in Indiana were without a high school diploma or GED. Again, African-American young men were disproportionately represented in the figures.

And, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), dropouts are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested than high school graduates. Nationally, 68 percent of all males in prison do not have a high school diploma. The majority of teens in the juvenile justice system are there as a result of nonviolent crimes such as truancy or disruptive classroom behavior.

And for many, being in the juvenile justice system begins the path toward a less productive life. More than two-thirds of these incarcerated teens ultimately drop out of high school; the vast majority of these individuals are young men of color.

Collaborative action
In 2015 President Obama and the White House My Brother’s Keeper initiative helped bring attention to these systemic issues and called on communities across the country to commit to producing better outcomes for our most vulnerable young people.

Indianapolis accepted the challenge. We already had gotten out of the gate by launching the Your Life Matters Task Force in 2014 to study and assess conditions locally, followed by a report that included specific strategy recommendations on how to create and expand more opportunities for these young men to be successful.

4 Areas of Focus OpportunIndy

And now OpportunIndy is engaging diverse community stakeholders in the ongoing work to address issues facing Indianapolis’ young black men — and the city overall.

OpportunIndy uses a collective impact model. We act as a facilitator and convener to bring partners like USA Funds® and their resources to the table for action and impact. We work toward the following goals:

  • All African-American men will graduate from high school on time and enter the workforce with an industry certification, military training, and/or postsecondary education by age 24.
  • All African-American men up to age 24 are prepared for success in the workforce and are gainfully employed in career-track work after completion of education.
  • All African-American young men age 14-24 are safe and healthy.
  • All African-American young men age 14-24 are free from arrest, detainment and incarceration.

In addition to our involvement in the My Brother’s Keeper effort, OpportunIndy is helping to create education and employment pathways for young men of color through the establishment of an Opportunity Zone. This effort focuses on young black men age 14-24 who are at risk of not completing high school, are underemployed, and/or are involved in the justice system.

By working together we can promote the policies and practices that provide young African-American men with more options — and therefore better opportunities to live their best lives.

View the video below to learn more about how OpportunIndy is working to make Indianapolis a stronger and more vibrant community for everyone.

OpportunIndy video

Key Education Transitions

Connecting College and Career Success for Underrepresented Students

Kim CookBy Kim Cook, Executive Director, National College Access Network

There are many key moments in a student’s path through education to career when postsecondary preparation and persistence intersect with career preparation. For example:

  • Career exploration in middle or high school can reinforce students’ postsecondary aspirations and encourage them to prepare for admission to a college or other postsecondary program.
  • Choice of college major, often based on a career goal, influences a student’s choice of postsecondary institutions, which in turn has a significant influence on whether a student persists and completes a postsecondary credential.
  • Acquisition of noncognitive skills and work experience during high school and college can increase both college access/completion and employment.

The reality is, you cannot separate college access and success from career preparation. We at NCAN view this work on career readiness as the “next frontier” in our field, much as we have made the pivot from college access to college success during the past several years.

NCANThanks to a generous one-year grant of $400,000 from USA Funds®, NCAN looks forward to providing additional professional development and services to our more than 400 member organizations, related to helping underrepresented students graduate from high school prepared to succeed both in college and on the job. NCAN member organizations include national and community-based nonprofits, scholarship providers, school districts and charter schools, colleges and universities, state agencies and foundations.

Our 2016 membership survey found that NCAN member organizations rank career success as one of their top interest areas for increased professional development. They want to learn more about how to identify in-demand local careers, recommend effective courses of study, and provide more opportunities for students to gain key skills that employers value.

NCAN will provide the college access and success community with professional development and learning opportunities that:

  • Make the intersection of college and career success more explicit.
  • Communicate related research.
  • Highlight successful programs already making the college success-career connection.
  • Share tools that make program implementation easier.

This capacity building will provide the resources member organizations can use to better support effective career-related practices for students.

Member services will include:

  • Related newsletter articles.
  • Blog posts.
  • White papers.
  • Webinars.
  • E-learning units.
  • Quarterly video chats.
  • A continuation of NCAN’s Benchmarking Project measuring postsecondary success of students served by member organizations.

NCAN will hold 2017 Spring Training regional meetings in Indianapolis, Phoenix, Houston and Providence, R.I., addressing the topic of Connecting College and Career Success. September’s national conference in San Diego will offer a pre-conference workshop and conference track.

The Connecting College and Career Success initiative will extend the definition of student success to encompass a successful launch into a rewarding career following graduation. We believe it will encourage more students to commit to postsecondary education, develop a more purposeful path through college, and complete a postsecondary credential on time and equipped with the skills to enter a career that offers a sustainable way of life following graduation.

Key Education Transitions

Completion for what? Aligning postsecondary education outcomes with workforce needs

John ApplegateBy James Applegate, Executive Director, Illinois Board of Higher Education

Across the nation, higher education and policy leaders are increasingly focused on the outcomes for college graduates. A college credential is more valuable today than ever. Those without them have little chance for a middle class life.

Years ago the primary focus of college opportunity advocacy groups was college access. This focus was guided by the belief that if college opportunity efforts managed to place students (especially underserved students) on a college campus, the work was done. Then, once it became clear how many enrolled students never finished, the focus rightly shifted to access and completion. Today the Holy Grail for higher education is equitable and high completion rates for all students.

Now another dimension is being added to the access and completion agenda: post-college-completion outcomes. More and more policymakers and students are asking the question, “Completion for what?”  Colleges are being asked to track and improve career outcomes for students in ways that address regional and state workforce needs.

In light of this new dimension of postsecondary education success, the Illinois General Assembly in May 2015 created the Higher Education Commission on the Future of the Workforce to develop recommendations for better aligning college credential production with current and future workforce needs within economic regions of the state. I was honored to chair this commission, which included leaders of higher education institutions, state legislators, economic development officials and representatives of business and industry.

illinois-report-arrowThe Commission released its final report on August 15. The Commission’s findings call for the following:

  • A coordinated plan to achieve Illinois’ goal of 60 percent of its adult population having a high-quality postsecondary credential or degree by 2025 (60 x 2025).
  • A publicly available statewide data system that will track and measure both employer demand and the supply of available workers with postsecondary credentials and degrees, using a regional focus.
  • Establishment of regional cross-sector approaches to engage both higher education and business and industry stakeholders as partners in economic development.

I believe the Commission’s work puts Illinois in the forefront of efforts to better align the outcomes of our higher education system with the current and emerging needs of the workforce. As a matter of fact, activities are already underway to address the Commission’s recommendations.

Report of the Higher Education Commission on the Future of the WorkforceFor example, at the September 27 Illinois Board of Higher Education meeting at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, the focus was on those recommendations and effective strategies to implement them at the regional level. Four Illinois regions — Greater Egypt, Madison County, Northeastern Illinois, and Rockford — have been selected as sites for the initial launch of the Commission’s work. Each of these regions’ cross-sector collaborations — among education, business, political, and community-based organizations — will address the following items:

  • Identify key areas of workforce need, for example, health care, energy, advanced manufacturing.
  • Assess current college credential production to meet those needs.
  • Create cross-sector partnerships to increase capacity where needed and redesign of program offerings to make them more accessible to more students, such as adults with some college but no degree.

With funding from USA Funds, IBHE is partnering with the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) to provide free technical assistance to these four regions.

These regional efforts will integrate the good work that has already been done as part of the development of the federally mandated Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) plan and the Illinois Community College Board’s Workforce Education Strategic planning process. The IBHE and the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) have signed data-sharing agreements, a first in Illinois, to connect higher education and workforce data to provide a sustainable database to inform all of this work.

Thanks to the dedication of multiple state agencies and commissions, along with supportive nonprofits, Illinois is setting the stage to ensure a maximum ROI for the increases in college attainment achieved through our 60 x 2025 efforts.

Key Education Transitions

Three Reasons to Mentor for College & Career Success

Pat Roe, USA FundsBy Pat Roe, Vice President, Philanthropy, USA Funds

Mentoring helps students and professionals establish and navigate the education and career pathways that are so critical in college Completion With a Purpose®. So it’s no surprise that mentoring is a key component of several initiatives that USA Funds® supports.

I personally have been involved in mentoring — first as a mentee and then as a mentor — most of my life. I’ve written in this blog about the many ways that mentoring has enriched my life — and the broader impact that mentoring has been shown to have on student success.

As a Starfish Initiative mentor, Kathy Laderach, right, helped guide Jashonna O’Neal in selecting a college.
As a Starfish Initiative mentor, Kathy Laderach, right, helped guide Jashonna O’Neal in selecting a college.

And I encourage you to get involved too. If you’re still looking for reasons to support mentoring or become a mentor yourself, here are three benefits of mentoring that I’ve discovered in my own experiences:

You’ll help build self-confidence.
The experience of a mentor can be invaluable in helping a student who is facing barriers to success in education and in life. You likely have faced many of the same obstacles — and your advice, based on lessons from your own successes and setbacks, can make all the difference in how a student approaches roadblocks in the journey to college and career success.

You’ll smooth education and career transitions.
Your guidance and the resources you recommend can help a student determine a good career fit, and then establish the goals to achieve to find success in that career. And mentors can help students as they network and look for opportunities for work-based learning and jobs.

You’ll learn something too.
I often liken the mentoring experience to being on an exploratory mission, helping the mentee to uncover the best path to academic and career success. And that mission allows both the mentee and the mentor to think through and learn about different approaches to challenges and opportunities together.

Learn more
For more information about how mentoring is helping students reach their educational and professional goals, take a look at a few examples of the mentoring programs that USA Funds supports:

100 Black Men100 Black Men — Offers mentoring-based programs that emphasize student achievement, college readiness, financial literacy and professional networking.


Big Brothers Big Sisters of AmericaBig Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana — Connects students with mentors who help guide the students to become productive young adults.


Pass the Torch for WomenPass the Torch for Women — The Project Grow program pairs women who are college students in Indianapolis with professionals who assist them in achieving their higher education and career advancement goals.


starfish-logoStarfish Initiative — Places disadvantaged students with college-educated mentors to promote the students’ college and career success.


Youth Mentoring InitiativeYouth Mentoring Initiative — Provides support for students facing challenges by placing them with community mentors.


Ready to be a part of mentoring? I encourage you to contact a mentoring program in your community to put your wisdom and experience to work to help a student succeed.