Brain Drain Plugs.

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Attracting students to college and keeping graduates in Indiana

When people complain about Indiana losing talented college graduates and its near-dead-last ranking in the number of residents with college degrees, they often credit a think tank for shining light on the situation.

The Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute's "Human Capital Retention Project" studies funded largely by Lilly Endowment, have documented the situation; starting with a 1998 report highlighting Indiana's 48th-place ranking among the states in adults with four or more years of college (the latest numbers, from 2000, place Indiana 50th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia).

Attention turned to alarm when the institute issued a first-of-its-kind study detailing the exodus of Indiana's college grads for opportunities elsewhere. Example: 42 percent of Indiana's grads with technology degrees left the state, compared to 20 percent in Michigan and Ohio.

Alarm has turned to action, as education, business and government leaders have begun to attack the so-called "brain drain." The Lilly Endowment has played a major part in funding innovative ideas of the state's public and private universities to attract more students to college--particularly those who would be the first in their families to attend--and to keep talent in the state upon graduation.

Huntington College and Taylor University in northeast Indiana and Earlham College in Richmond are among 17 institutions that shared $21.9 million in Lilly Endowment grants for college-preparation programs, beginning in 1998. Such programs often target eighth-graders with high potential, sometimes low achievement and no previous family exposure to college life.

Earlham's program, called the Earlham/Lilly Indiana Initiative, works with schools in six counties: Wayne, Ripley, Jay, Randolph, Union and Franklin. Eighth-graders are nominated from each middle school to attend an intensive two-week "Summer Odyssey" to acquaint them with college life and show them that learning math and the humanities can be fun. They also discuss careers that may be right for them and participate in "challenge education," which is held in the woods and utilizes a ropes course to teach teamwork and leadership skills.

To be eligible, the student would have to be the first in the family to attend college. "The very idea of going on to college and university is so foreign to a lot of folks that one of our greatest challenges is to make going on to college an idea that's not terrifying," says Ellen Bennett, director of Earlham's program.

When Taylor University, in Fort Wayne and Upland, was approached by Lilly Endowment to submit a proposal for attracting non-traditional students to the institution, it decided to build a program based on the inspiration of Samuel Morris, a young African who came to Fort Wayne in the 1890s. He had no money and came from a family with no formal education, but he had a strong faith, spoke in local churches and eventually became a household name. Morris attended Taylor University and received an education, says Randall Dodge, dean of students, but his presence transformed the university.

Taylor created the Samuel Morris Scholars program, now...

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