Chelsea Schneider, Municipal Innovations Specialist

Boosting the number of residents with post-secondary degrees is the aim of a Shelby County program where high school graduates can attend Ivy Tech Community College at no cost to them.

Advantage Shelby County, a joint effort by the city, county and Ivy Tech, provides scholarships to cover tuition costs for up to two years. Today, nearly 130 students – representing about one-third of the county’s typical high school graduating class – are benefiting from the program.

Local leaders launched Advantage Shelby County to increase educational attainment, and in turn, the community benefits from a highly-educated workforce, Shelbyville Mayor Tom DeBaun said. Currently, about 26 percent of Shelby County students earn a degree at a traditional, four-year school.

The program is designed to provide “last dollar” assistance for Shelby County residents, so the funds pay for tuition costs not covered by other financial aid. To qualify, students are required to enroll at Ivy Tech full time, have a minimum 2.0 GPA and complete community service. Recipients also must enter an approved degree program, with options ranging from general studies to business administration and advanced automation and robotics technology.

“A lot of these kids have job potential when they complete the program,” DeBaun said, with many participants serving internships at local industrial firms or the hospital.

The scholarships are modeled off tuition assistance programs in other states, including the Tennessee Promise. In Tennessee’s program, students can apply for aid to attend one of the state’s community or technical colleges.

The Shelby County program is the first of its kind in Indiana, according to Ivy Tech officials.

“Advantage Shelby County gives students the opportunity to earn a degree and then start their career or transfer to a four-year degree program completely free of debt,” said Dr. Kathleen Lee, chancellor of Ivy Tech Central Indiana. “Educational attainment is key to the health and growth of a community and by partnering with Ivy Tech in this initiative, city and county leaders are really investing in the future of their people and their community.”

A separate program run by the city’s charter school, The Excel Center, is helping about 50 adults receive their high school diplomas, industry certifications or college credit through Ivy Tech. The city helped the school locate to Downtown Shelbyville. The adult learning program, which is operated by Goodwill Education Initiatives, offers participants life coaches and free child care.

The city invests in workforce development because an area’s economic base is a key driver for government operations, DeBaun said.

“For us, it’s about perpetuating our ability to do our jobs,” he said. “We want the community to be the place where people want to live. In order to do that, if you got a thriving economy, then you need the people there to supply the economy. You want to create that quality of place for people to live. All of these things are interrelated and circular. They chase each other.”

Among other projects, Shelbyville will soon begin construction on a trailhead to act as a front door to the community. The Blue River Trailhead project is revitalizing the former site of a dilapidated gas station. City leaders also plan to build a Japanese garden and senior community center at the former site of a hospital.

“We’ve spent many, many years attracting industry here,” DeBaun said, “and now we’re going to devote our time and attention to attracting people.”


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