Pathway to Blue: ISU, Ivy Tech partnership eases students into 4-year life
Margaret Skutt, an Indiana State University sophomore majoring in psychology, didn’t follow a traditional path in achieving her post-secondary goals.
Her first year, she lived on the ISU campus, but she was enrolled at Ivy Tech Community College Terre Haute and took Ivy Tech classes taught — on the ISU campus.
She had applied to ISU, but was instead referred to the Pathway to Blue program.
Pathway to Blue is a partnership between the two colleges, now in its third year, and helps students get better prepared academically and make the transition to the four-year university.
Pathway students also pay less in tuition as Ivy Tech students.
Skutt, who is from Zionsville, said that Pathway to Blue helped her transition to ISU because she was able to live on campus, become familiar with the area and start to feel like a university student.
The Ivy Tech faculty “don’t overwhelm you, and whenever you needed help, they were there always ready to help,” she said. “I do admit the first couple of weeks were rocky, but sooner or later I got into the swing of things.”
She wanted to attend ISU “because I heard they had a great psychology program and I have friends that go here, which made my adjustment go a bit more smoothly,” she said.
Her sophomore year “so far has been going great.” She’s developed a schedule that helps her avoid getting overwhelmed and able to maintain a good balance.
Pathway to Blue students, who come from across the state, earn the Indiana College Core, a 30-hour general education certificate that will fully transfer to ISU (as well as the state’s other public colleges and universities).
Students who successfully complete the program with at least a 2.0 grade-point average will be able to transfer to ISU.
Indiana has experienced a significant decline in its college-going rate, and Pathway to Blue is one example of an innovative program that could help reverse that trend, said Chris Lowery, Indiana commissioner for higher education.
“Right now, there aren’t enough Hoosier students choosing the path of education beyond high school, because of costs or because they don’t see the value in pursing higher education,” he said.
Changing the trajectory of Indiana’s college-going rates will take innovative efforts such as Pathway to Blue, especially for students who can use extra support in their transition from high school to college, he said.
Making a successful transition
Pathway to Blue is geared to traditional-aged students who have applied to ISU but are not admitted.
Now in its third year, it is an invitation-only program aimed at students who show potential to be successful at ISU but take Ivy Tech classes their first year.
Students live in an ISU residence hall, take classes together and have access to both Ivy Tech and ISU programs and services. They take Ivy Tech classes taught by community college faculty, but on the ISU campus; they are enrolled at Ivy Tech.
“It allows students to enroll in smaller classes and get a sense and feel of college before jumping into that four-year college experience,” said Sade Walker Heaton, Ivy Tech director of Pathway to Blue. “They get the feel of what it is like to be on a four-year campus and experience college life, but in that smaller cohort group setting.”
Pathway students receive almost full benefits of being at ISU; they can participate in organizations on campus, attend sporting events and use the recreation center. They also have access to ISU resources that include the writing center, tutors and counselors.
“They also get those benefits at Ivy Tech Terre Haute as well” and meet with an Ivy Tech student success coach each week, Heaton said.
They also take an ISU course in which they learn study skills and other skills important for academic success.
Pathway to Blue strives to “really give those students a chance at realizing their academic goals,” Heaton said. It provides a bridge as they transition from high school to college.
“I think it’s a wonderful model,” she said. “It gives students that chance to really get acquainted with and acclimated to college.” The first year of college can be a struggle.
“These students have a lot of goals and ambitions,” Heaton said. They aspire to be lawyers, teachers, producers, news anchors, nurses, and more. “This program is a great opportunity for them to get on that pathway to realizing their dreams.”
This year’s students come from across Indiana, including Fort Wayne, Lake County, Indianapolis, Muncie and Evansville.
The program expanded in 2021-22, with 35 students participating in fall 2021. The 2021 cohort improved academically compared to the 2020 cohort, with almost 50% completing two semesters of the program with a cumulative GPA of 2.0, Heaton said.
Nearly one-third transferred to start the 2022-23 academic year as a sophomore at ISU.
This fall, the program had 21 students.
Students apply to ISU, which identifies those they believe would benefit from Pathway to Blue.
At the end of the year, some Pathway to Blue students may decide not to pursue a four-year baccalaureate degree, while others might choose to transfer to another college.
“We can define success in many different ways,” Heaton said. “A lot of students accomplish what they wanted to,” whether to attend ISU or another institution. Some may choose a different career path.
Daisha Myrick and Julionna Meade, both from Indianapolis, are part of this year’s Pathway to Blue class and hope to become ISU sophomores next year.
Myrick said Pathway to Blue “was a chance for me to become a Sycamore.” She has a year to get better prepared academically and to make the transition easier in other ways as well.
So far, she likes the program and enjoys living on campus. Her greatest challenge is public speaking. “I’m working on it. It’s getting better.”
Meade initially applied to several colleges, but COVID negatively impacted her high school grade-point average, she said.
“A lot of the colleges weren’t accepting me, and so ISU gave me a second chance at life, basically. Without college, I wouldn’t be able to do what I want to do,” she said. She wants to be an orthopedic surgeon.
So far, the Pathway to Blue program is going “really well” for her, Meade said. “I love all of my classes. They are super easy, for me, anyway. I love living on campus.”
Meade is working on her study habits because, “I’ve never been one to study because I retain information really well.”
She has used ISU’s writing lab to help her write her English papers, and she’s checked out books at Cunningham Library.
Changes will lead to greater success
Linda Maule, dean of ISU’s University College, said the college partners “learned really important things from our first two years” and have made changes that should produce even greater success.
Initially, students lived on the ISU campus but took classes at Ivy Tech, which presented some obstacles for students, especially if they didn’t have a car. Now, the Ivy Tech students take Ivy Tech classes on the ISU campus.
“That is a significant improvement,” Maule said.
The students also will have continuity in terms of ISU advising. Pathway to Blue students will have an ISU University College adviser, who will eventually become their academic coach when they transition to their academic college.
Pathway students who transition to ISU also will be part of the Project Success program, which provides comprehensive support until they graduate.
Pathway students also are now required to participate in the five-day Bridge Week scheduled for one week before their Ivy Tech classes start, which helps them further integrate into the larger ISU community and get to know other 18-year-olds on campus.
During Bridge Week, Ivy Tech Pathway students meet ISU freshmen from other programs.
“It really integrates them far more ... We don’t want them to feel like they are an island here at ISU,” Maule said. “We want them to experience ISU as an entering freshmen would experience ISU.”
While Ivy Tech and ISU do all they can to ensure students are successful, students must be motivated, Maule said. “We want to make sure we have everything finely tuned so we give them every opportunity to be successful, then it’s on their shoulders. They have to be motivated as well.”
Another benefit of the program is that prospective ISU students test the waters of higher education at a reduced cost, since Ivy Tech tuition is less expensive than ISU’s.
“We don’t want them to leave with debt they didn’t need to have,” Maule said. “We feel we have a moral obligation to ensure the people we invite stand a very good chance of being academically successful and able to leave here with a degree.”
Ivy Tech and ISU meet regularly to talk about the current Pathway cohort and other prospective participants.
Some students in the program may decide it’s not the right college and career path for them, while others may be successful, yet transfer to other universities.
While ISU’s intent is for Pathway students to attend ISU, “If we can give students a good start and help them develop the skills they need to navigate higher education, and they want to go somewhere else and are successful, I’m happy for them and I think it’s good for the state,” Maule said.