Why Indianapolis Wants All Middle Schoolers to Take a College Visit

The strategy comes amid a statewide push to increase the rate of students choosing college after high school.

IUPUI pathology lab intern Rachael Mount, right, shows Longfellow middle schoolers a heart during their visit to campus on April 19, 2024. (Carley Lanich/Mirror Indy)

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IPS wants to make sure more of its students are exposed to college sooner.

That’s why district officials are setting a new expectation that every IPS student completes at least one college visit each of their three years in middle school.

“There’s a lot of research that shows that if a middle school-aged child is able to have access or get onto a college campus, then there is a significant increase in them feeling like it’s an attainable option,” said Lori Hart, IPS’ K-8 elementary and middle school counseling coordinator.

IPS hopes to achieve this through a new IPS Middle School College Campus Visits Program.

More than 200 students from the district’s Henry W. Longfellow Medical & STEM Middle School 28 visited the IUPUI campus April 19 as part of a pilot of the program. The students were met with hands-on activities, such as creating their own zine with Herron School of Art & Design staff or examining organ dissections with pathology lab interns.

Longfellow student Melissa Austin was among about a dozen eighth graders who nodded along to Music and Arts Technology department adjunct instructor Michael Reynolds’ upbeat club remix of “Pump Up The Jam.”

Hart said students were chosen from the activities, which also included a Q&A with School of Education students, based on career interests they expressed to their teachers before the visit.

The visit comes as IPS revamps its middle school experience as a part of the district’s Rebuilding Strongerreconfiguration plan and as the state grapples with stagnant college-going rates.

Indiana hit its lowest college-going rate in a generation in 2020 with just 53% of graduating high schoolers choosing to go straight to college, according to data from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. The rate has stayed flat since then.

Monica Medina, a clinical associate professor in IUPUI’s School of Education, said waiting until high school is often too late to introduce students to college experiences, especially for students who will be the first in their family to complete education beyond high school.

“Introducing them to the opportunities, to the different options they may have, can help them think about what they’re doing in high school and the significance of high school,” Medina said. 

More than 1,000 middle schoolers are expected to participate in this spring’s pilot of the college visits program.Longfellow, Northwest, William Penn and Clarence Farrington schools are included in the spring pilot. The program is expected to expand to all other IPS middle schools next year and comes as the district shifts to a middle school model for sixth through eighth grades this fall under Rebuilding Stronger.

IPS has budgeted $25,200 for the program in the coming school year, according to a news release. That includes funding for more than 80 field trips, reaching more than 5,200 students.

Partners in the effort include Butler University, IU Indianapolis, Ivy Tech Community College, Marian University, Martin University, the University of Indianapolis and Vincennes University’s Indianapolis Aviation Technology Center.

Hart said she hopes students take these experiences home with them to spark conversations in their families about what it means to go to college and how to prepare as a family for opportunities beyond high school.

“They will have that core memory to take in the culture and just that feel of being on a college campus,” Hart said. “I hope they take away really exciting conversations to have with their family.”

This story was originally published at Mirror Indy.

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