Compared to three decades ago, a greater share of Americans - of all socioeconomic backgrounds – are completing bachelor’s degrees today. But affluent students are improving their college attainment rates at a much faster pace than poor students. According to researchers from the University of Michigan, the gap between rich and poor students earning baccalaureate degrees was 31 percentage points 30 years ago. Today, that gap is 45 points.
Educational leaders, businesspeople and funders alike agree that such a large gap has a negative impact on American cultural and fiscal health. It means that talented, creative young people are likely missing a critical step toward employment and economic success – a college degree – and that they are less able to contribute to the economy and their communities. To address this challenge, many colleges are using creative programs to increase college degree attainment for low-income students. ASAP, the Associate Accelerated Program, is one such model, and it’s spreading throughout Indiana’s largest postsecondary educational institution, Ivy Tech Community College.
|The Smith family is committed to support a range of community efforts, and college access is one of their areas of focus.|
|ASAP students benefit from both an accelerated degree program and social opportunities. The second Lafayette cohort visited the zoo as a group.|
And for 25 ASAP students at Ivy Tech’s Lafayette campus, one family – linked by a common interest in education and a childhood in Lafayette – is making it possible for a select group of hard working students to finish an associate’s degree in just one year.
The Associate Accelerated Program (ASAP) model was conceived in a planning retreat for the Indiana Commission for Higher Education in 2008. ASAP targets high-achieving students from low-income families. ASAP students earn two years of college credit in just one year, quick-starting their postsecondary experience in what might otherwise be a challenging transition year. With funding from the Lumina Foundation, the model was launched at Ivy Tech’s Indianapolis and Fort Wayne campuses in 2010.
Mike Smith, a retired businessman who had worked with both Mayflower and Wellpoint, was at that 2008 Commission for Higher Education. Smith has championed access to education and opportunity, both as a volunteer and through his philanthropic efforts, which have included board positions with both Legacy Fund and CICF. As Lafayette natives, Smith, his wife Sue, and his brothers and their wives saw an opportunity, to bring the ASAP model to Ivy Tech’s Lafayette campus. Part of the family’s commitment included a million-dollar multi-year grant from the Michael L. Smith and Susan L. Smith Family Fund, a CICF fund.
“As an early advocate of this program, I got so excited, personally, to work with my family and bring the model to our hometown, Lafayette,” says Mike Smith. “And we’re not just giving the scholars money, we really want them to connect to campus life with the entire experience of college, with the confidence that they ’belong’.”
The financial support that the scholars receive is designed to help them focus on their studies and minimize barriers to college success. They receive a stipend that allows them to focus on the intensive course load instead of earning an income.
A Family Philosophy
Mike and his two brothers, Jim and Ed, grew up in Lafayette, in a family situation not unlike that of many ASAP scholars. They went on to successful careers in business. That success was inspired, in part, by adults who believed not only in the Smith brothers, but also in the capacity of higher education to transform lives.
“We were fortunate to have high school teachers and counselors who helped us really see that higher education was a way to escape poverty,” says Mike Smith. “That truly opened our eyes to what our many opportunities could be.”
All three brothers have had success in their careers, both in Lafayette and beyond. Mike Smith’s career brought him to Indianapolis, where he worked with both Mayflower and Wellpoint. After retiring, he served as a leadership volunteer with several organizations, including Legacy Fund, CICF, and the Lumina Foundation, which works to increase access to higher education. He and his wife, Susan, established a fund with CICF, Michael L. Smith and Susan L. Smith Family Fund, which their children help manage.
“Being on CICF boards and working with the staff as a grantor, we’ve been moved to streamline and make our philanthropy more meaningful,” says Smith, whose fund focuses on four core areas of community improvement. “Having our whole family involved – both our kids with our fund and my brothers and their wives with the ASAP program – has represented a wonderful, special family opportunity.”
The Smith family’s opportunity to give has in turn provided a meaningful opportunity for ASAP scholars at Ivy Tech, Lafayette.
After just one year of ASAP on the Lafayette campus (the second year is in progress), the Smith family investment is yielding returns. From the 2011-2012 cohort, 86% of ASAP students earned a degree or are still enrolled after 12 months - a rate five times better than the average for all Ivy Tech Community College students and nearly ten times better than the average for at-risk, low-income students. The success of some ASAP scholars has helped inspire younger siblings and even parents to make a college degree a personal goal.
“It’s remarkable to witness these high-achieving youngsters model to their own families that higher education is accessible,” says Smith. “We have one student whose mother is returning to school and whose younger sister is now planning on getting a degree. These kids are an inspiration in their families.”