Lumina Foundation Designates Columbus & Southeast Indiana as Talent Hub

Today Lumina Foundation announced the Community Education Coalition (CEC) of Columbus, Indiana and its largest regional initiative, the EcO Network of Southeast Indiana (Economic Opportunities through Education), are among 17 communities in America receiving designation as a ‘Talent Hub’. The CEC and EcO Network earned this new designation by meeting rigorous standards for creating environments that attract, retain, and cultivate talent, particularly among today’s students, many of whom are people of color, the first in their families to go to college, and from low-income households.

The 17 communities designated as Talent Hubs are:  Albuquerque, N.M.; Austin, Texas; Boston; Cincinnati; Columbus/Southeast Ind.; Dayton, Ohio; Denver; Fresno, Calif.; Los Angeles; Louisville, Ky.; Nashville, Tenn.; New York; Philadelphia; Racine, Wis.; Richmond, Va.; Shasta County, Calif.; and Tulsa, Okla.

“These communities are the creative and entrepreneurial engines that power our nation,” said Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina Foundation. “For our country to meet growing demand for an educated workforce, we must bolster community-based efforts that are tightly focused on increasing the numbers of people in cities across the country with education and training beyond high school.”

For a decade, the regional EcO Network has been the major initiative among Columbus and Southeast Indiana’s education, business, community foundation, and broader community partnerships working together to increase secondary to postsecondary education attainment. The Network uses a way of working together collectively through the use of the Stakeholder Engagement Process tools and frameworks developed by CEC’s CivicLab. The EcO Network seeks to create a regional system of life-long learning by connecting the residents of ten counties within rural Southeast Indiana to better economic opportunities through education. In particular, the EcO Network focuses on the region’s major economic clusters: advanced manufacturing and healthcare.

The EcO Network, through its education partners, has dramatically expanded middle school through grade 16 Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education program enrollments related to advanced manufacturing and healthcare. Additionally, access to high-quality postsecondary certifications and degree programs have been significantly enhanced by investments from the EcO Network, including the operation of twenty-three technology labs in the region. Engineering and technology programs in Bartholomew County take place through Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation, Flatrock-Hawcreek School Corporation, C4 Columbus Area Career Connection, Ivy Tech Community College, Indiana University Purdue University Columbus, and Purdue Polytechnic Columbus.

“This is a momentous announcement as this year marks the twentieth anniversary of the CEC and the tenth anniversary of the EcO Network,” said Kathy Oren, Executive Director of the CEC and EcO Network. “This designation is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the education, community foundation, industry (including more than one hundred manufacturers and all seven hospitals), workforce, government, and community leaders from the region working together for a very long time. We are grateful to Lumina Foundation for this designation.”

This designation will allow the EcO Network to accelerate and advance community and regional credential attainment efforts by improving attainment outcomes for adults with no postsecondary education experience (regionally there are 68,742 adults ages 25 to 64 with a high school diploma, but no postsecondary education), focusing on Latino adults and those adults below 200% of poverty (103,000 people regionally) with high quality certificates, Associate degrees and Bachelor’s degrees, especially targeting the advanced manufacturing and healthcare economic sectors.

“As a founding partner of the CEC and EcO Network, this is truly an exciting moment for the stakeholders that have been working together for many years to better connect education and economic opportunity in Columbus and all of Southeastern Indiana,” said Mary Chandler, Vice President, Corporate Responsibility at Cummins Inc., and CEO of the Cummins Foundation.

Working across sectors with postsecondary and adult education partners provides the opportunity to cultivate new strategies to support students facing barriers that can derail their educational goals. A small guiding team representing regional organizations and sectors, are working with partners to implement strategies consistent with the Lumina designation. Members of the regional guiding team include Kathy Huffman with the Community Education Coalition / EcO Attainment Network, Heather Baker and Jackie Thurston of Ivy Tech Community College, Molly Dodge of River Valley Resources headquartered in Madison, Indiana, Sylvia Babcock of Su Casa Columbus and Luz Elena Michel of the Community Education Coalition.

Talent Hub strategies, identified and vetted by over one-hundred (100) regional stakeholders, include but are not limited to increasing enrollments in WorkINdiana occupational trainings, implementing selected strategies such as Beyond Financial Aid on college campuses to support low-income students, and expanding English Language Learner classes to meet the needs of the expanding Latino population. Ultimately, it is intended that students who complete these programs will successfully obtain well-paying jobs.

“While the regional economy and the education level of our residents are interdependent, the EcO Talent Hub is about preparing individuals for high-demand jobs, moving them through educational pathways leading to careers. It is very rewarding to receive this designation, allowing us to help many more of our students and adults increase their level of education and job skills to support the demands of our region’s manufacturing and healthcare employers, as well as other key economic sectors over the course of time,” said Dr. Steven Combs, President, Ivy Tech Community College.

The EcO Network will be eligible for grant funding of $350,000 from Lumina over 42 months. The grant will be tied to the achievement of goals outlined by the regional advisory team. The overall effort connects to Goal 2025, a national goal established by Lumina Foundation, and adopted by Indiana. Goal 2025 seeks to increase the percentage of Americans with high-quality credentials and degrees to 60 percent by the year 2025. The educational attainment rate is 30.6% in the ten EcO Network Counties of Southeast Indiana, including Bartholomew County at 42% as compared to the State of Indiana at 35%. A short-term goal has been set by the EcO Attainment Network to increase the post-secondary attainment percentage to 35.2% by 2020.

Grant funding will support local efforts to educate more people, allowing community and postsecondary leaders to better meet the specific needs of residents. Lumina will provide these funds in partnership with the Kresge Foundation. Kresge’s support for Talent Hubs comes from its national Education Program, which includes a focus on aligning and strengthening urban higher education ecosystems to help more low-income, under-represented and minority students gain access to and succeed in higher education.

Noted Mayor Jim Leinhoop of Columbus, Indiana: “The EcO Network has provided a model for how communities can form networks of industry, education, economic development, government and private organizations working together to make real and sustainable progress in developing an educated and skilled workforce that is prepared to meet industry employment needs. Because of the terrific work of the EcO Network over the past ten years, hundreds of people and organizations have come together to better align education and economic opportunities. Columbus and the region will continue to accelerate their efforts to attract, develop, and engage talent in an even more intentional and strategic manner.”

The Talent Hub designation serves both as an aspirational target for other cities to aim for and a platform from which cities designated as Talent Hubs can build. Talent Hubs are one outgrowth of Lumina’s Community Partnerships for Attainment which was in excess of $10 million in grants to 75 cities across the country, of which Columbus and Southeast Indiana participated. This partnership, which began in 2013, will continue to work directly with communities to expand educational opportunities beyond high school.

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About Lumina Foundation: Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation in Indianapolis that is committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all. Lumina envisions a system that is easy to navigate, delivers fair results, and meets the nation’s need for talent through a broad range of credentials. The Foundation’s goal is to prepare people for informed citizenship and for success in a global economy. For more information, visit

About Kresge Foundation: The Kresge Foundation is a $3.5 billion private, national foundation that works to expand opportunities in America’s cities through grant making and social investing in arts and culture, education, environment, health, human services, and community development in Detroit. In 2016, the Board of Trustees approved 474 grants totaling $141.5 million, and made 14 social investment commitments totaling $50.8 million. For more information, visit


About the Community Education Coalition: The CEC is a partnership of business, education, and community leaders whose goal is to align the region’s learning system to support economic growth and a high quality of life.  The CEC’s mission is to promote initiatives that will increase our population’s access to education, increase the overall educational attainment of the region and align the regional learning system.


About EcO Network: The mission of the EcO Network is to create a regional system of life-long learning connecting the residents of ten counties within rural Southeast Indiana to better economic opportunities through education. EcO has three strategic goals: 1) Move residents up at least one level in their education, training, and/or job placement, 2) Coordinate and align a regional learning system, and 3) Be a catalyst for regional leadership & collaboration.


The EcO Network focuses on increasing educational attainment, especially linked to the economic sectors that are the most well-paying in Southeast Indiana, and currently focused on advanced manufacturing (representing 30% of people employed in the region) and health care (representing 10% of people employed in the region) for 10 counties in the Southeastern Indiana region. Counties include: Bartholomew, Dearborn, Decatur, Franklin, Jackson, Jefferson, Jennings, Ohio, Ripley, and Switzerland.