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Chuck Carney
IU School of Education

Last modified: Thursday, November 1, 2007

Pinning down success for the “mobile student”

IU School of Education to study ways to help Northwest Indiana college students succeed

Nov. 1, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A two-year grant to the Indiana University School of Education will fund a study to determine ways to enhance persistence in graduation rates among students at three college campuses in Northwest Indiana. The Lumina Foundation is providing $621,000 for the study to look at student success at IU Northwest in Gary, Purdue University Calumet in Hammond, and Ivy Tech Northwest, which has campuses in Gary, Michigan City, East Chicago and Valparaiso.

Don Hossler

Don Hossler

Project director Don Hossler, professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and director of the Project on Academic Success, said leaders from the three campuses came together to study the issue because students tend to move their academic careers among the three schools in the roughly 25-mile radius.

"These are students who are locally situated," Hossler said. "Once they get started, they either persist at one of these three institutions or they stop enrolling altogether."

Hossler terms these as "mobile working students," sometimes struggling to fit higher education into a busy schedule.

"It is our sense that a large number of the students enrolled on these campuses are working anywhere from one to three jobs," Hossler said.

Bruce Bergland, Chancellor of IU Northwest, said the project is very promising. He said the university will use the findings to develop institutional practices to help students stay in school and graduate.

"Little is actually known about how, on a daily basis, non-residential college students and our students in particular manage the challenges of working, raising families and completing their academic work," he said.

The chancellor of Purdue Calumet said this is the first study to take on the impact of work on students' academic lives.

"I believe that helping our students manage the conflicts of school, work and family is at the heart of our commitment to retention and graduation," said Howard Cohen. "The IU School of Education study provides core information for our strategic planning process."

He said the study has already demonstrated a need for predictability and flexibility in dealing with student academic goals.

"I can think of no research on our students that has a greater potential to help us improve student learning," Cohen said.

The institutions cite their collaboration as an important step to developing the region. Bergland said it fits nicely with the goals cited by IU President Michael McRobbie in his "Degrees of Excellence" outline delivered during his inaugural address last week.

"The initiative asks us to focus special attention on helping students graduate more quickly and on working with our partners at PUC and Ivy Tech to make this happen," Bergland said.

Hossler said while data analysis is part of the study, much of the work will involve speaking to students, faculty, and administrators to get a sense of how complex the lives of these working students may be. The final report should yield results that can be generalized to most metropolitan areas with two- and four-year institutions. And the results have implications for the workforce across the country.

"Some policy observers have said if we can't do a better job of enrolling and facilitating degree attainment amongst these kinds of students, the United States will not have a sufficiently large educated workforce to compete in the 21st century global economy," Hossler said.

Media Outlets: The following comments are available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Web site at Look for the story headline under "Podcasts."

Hossler says the mobile student population is largely rooted in Northwest Indiana:

"They started their postsecondary career in the region and they're going to stay there. In fact, we find using the state database that 80 percent of all students who start attending postsecondary education in one of those three institutions, they begin their career there, if they remain enrolled anywhere, they remain at one of those three institutions. These are students who are locally situated. Once they get started they either persist at one of these three institutions or they stop enrolling altogether. And there is a fair amount of movement from Purdue Calumet to Ivy Tech, from Ivy Tech to IUN, and well over half of all these students do not apply for financial aid and we don't have great data on the exact percentage, but it is our sense, our impression that a large number of the students enrolled on these campuses are working anywhere from one to three jobs."

Much of the work will involve getting details from the students themselves, according to Hossler:

"We're going to be doing some database analysis, but the primary focus of this study is going to be talking to the students, talking to faculty, talking to administrators, getting some sense of the complexity of student lives, how they go about making decisions about how much they work and what kinds of jobs they take and how those influence their ability to successfully move through the system, while simultaneously trying. Northwest will discover if they can structure their programs a little differently or if their advisors had a better sense of the kind of realities of the issues students were confronting, they might offer different kinds of academic advice, advice about how many courses to take and so forth, how all those things fit together in enhancing persistence and continuous enrollment."

Hossler says studying the mobile student population is important because it's no longer a small portion of overall higher education enrollment:

"What we used to call nontraditional students, although they really are the norm now. We really ought to call them the traditional students and students enrolled in residential situations like Bloomington, that are, in terms of percentage all students, they're the nontraditional students. So yeah, we definitely think that we will gain insights that could be extrapolated to any metropolitan environment where there are both two- and four-year institutions where there's pretty good odds that students are moving back and forth across the institutions and where issues of work and how much work affect their educational careers."

For more information, contact Chuck Carney, IU School of Education, at 812-856-8027 and