It was a simple question, asked matter-of-factly during a Ball State University (BSU) faculty meeting about encouraging college students to work in Indiana after graduation. As simple as it was, though, it inspired an innovative approach that is engaging communities across Indiana and earning praise from state officials.
“You’re talking about folks staying in Indiana,” a Ball State faculty member noted. “Have you asked them to stay?”
Certainly, Ball State has made the case for staying in Indiana for years, and many graduates do take jobs in the Hoosier state. In fact, a recent survey revealed that 78% of the school’s May 2022 degree recipients work in Indiana. Still, the team looking at graduate retention believed BSU could do more. And they had to admit the school had not asked students directly to stay in Indiana.
That admission led to a plan that promises to have statewide impact.
First, explains BSU Director for Industry Engagement Jeff Eads, the school began by making the direct ask, creating videos with Gov. Eric Holcomb and other high-ranking officials inviting Cardinals to explore career opportunities in the Hoosier state.
That approach became a foundation for Staying IN, a social media campaign promoting Indiana’s offerings, from its natural beauty to its overall quality of life. Key to this aspect of the plan, says Becca Rice, Ball State’s VP for Governmental Relations and Industry Engagement, was upending the too-common-in-Indiana belief that success means finding a job somewhere else, and showing students and parents that real success comes from creating a meaningful life.
The university’s plan for making that case, the County Ambassador Program, is what earned the university kudos from state leaders. “This new Ambassador Program will bring in highly skilled talent across the state,” said Tony Denhart, executive vice president of talent and workforce at the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. “Initiatives like this will help ensure that students know of all the opportunities on their doorstep.”
Open to all 92 counties, the plan invites each county to identify a Ball State student to serve as the county’s Ambassador, sharing the virtues of the county with other Cardinals. The county supplies the student with information, materials and giveaways – T-shirts, stickers, discount coupons, etc. – that help sell peers on the county’s offerings. Ball State supplies the Ambassadors with coaching on how to best communicate community benefits and provides opportunities for them to meet students, including in the Indiana Connections Lounge, a relaxed on-campus space where students also can meet casually with representatives from Indiana employers.
Through these and other tools, Ambassadors have the chance to act as champions for their hometowns and counties, showing off the opportunities available in the Hoosier state.
Meanwhile, Ball State encourages communities and counties to do exactly what that faculty member suggested: Ask students to stay in Indiana. This starts with identifying that Ambassador, seizing opportunities to meet with students to highlight career opportunities, and participating in typical programs like internships.
But Eads says counties could do more to identify graduates of their local high schools. For example, he says that when students head off to college, a community could host a “send-off” that lets the young people know that the community wants them to come back. In addition, employers could do things like invite students to lunch when they’re home for breaks.
The university will support these efforts by letting students know about the opportunities that wait for them in Indiana, and to help them appreciate the array of skills needed by Hoosier employers, even in sectors they might not otherwise consider.
For example, accounting students might not think about opportunities in advanced manufacturing, and marketing grads might not realize that they could make a career in the logistics industry. Humanities students might be surprised by the ways their skillsets could apply in such sectors, too. Ball State helps students connect those dots. “What we’re really talking about is, no matter your major, you’re getting these skills and there are places to apply them right here in Indiana,” Eads says.
Certainly, Ball State wants students to know that their degrees can lead to opportunities anywhere in the world; at the same time, the university doesn’t want students to assume they won’t find good opportunities in Indiana.
“We like to say, ‘Our Cardinals are well prepared to fly anywhere,’” Rice says. “We want to make sure that they know the opportunities in every county in Indiana for them to land.”