Nearly 200 Ohio Army National Guard leaders gathered for the Army Leaders Conference in Columbus in Dec. 2022. The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement. Credit: Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Mann / Ohio National Guard

A new public-private partnership is joining the effort to get more of Ohio’s adult students to and through college. It’s the latest initiative aiming for residents to enroll or re-enroll as the state’s demographics continue to change and the number of high school graduates is projected to decline. 

This offering, though, is targeting a very specific group of those adults: members of the Ohio National Guard. 

Out of the state’s nearly 16,000 members of the Army and Air National Guard, only about 24% have an associate’s degree or higher. That’s lower than the National Guard’s rate of 29% nationwide.  

The hope, according to local and state officials involved with the public-private partnership behind the offering, is that more support will help them navigate their busy lives as they earn a degree or credential, which in turn could help boost local workforces.   

How the program works

Those in the guard already have access to scholarships that can help pay college tuition and/or for approved training programs. 

But adult students often have lots of other responsibilities, such as family and work,  to juggle. Guard members have even more, including their training schedules of one weekend a month and two weeks a year. 

This new program, called “Coach to Complete,” will provide support to help them navigate their schooling. Participants are matched with a coach who will provide one-on-one “success coaching” through an education nonprofit called InsideTrack for up to four years, according to a recent news release

That could look like a range of things: help with setting goals, developing time management skills, and creating “individual plans to help make completion a reality.” The personalized support is delivered virtually and includes live sessions, text messages and emails, per the release. 

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Members who live in Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina and Summit counties are eligible, along with those studying at one of Cuyahoga County’s higher education institutions. 

This pilot phase is focused on current Guard members who are enrolled or are thinking about enrolling in some type of post-secondary education. Those who have paused their education journeys are eligible, too. 

Who’s paying for this

This is structured under what’s called a “Pay for Success” funding model, which essentially means servicers are paid once some agreed-upon metrics of success are hit.  

Here’s how that works in this situation. Several private and public groups are involved. 

Maycomb Capital, an impact investing platform, is giving a loan to InsideTrack, the coaching program, for its upfront costs. InsideTrack will get referrals from the Guard and work with those members. The Ohio Department of Higher Education will then keep tabs on agreed-upon outcomes, including enrollment, retention, and completion, and then will verify results to the county. 

If those goals are hit, the Cuyahoga County Department of Health and Human Services will pay InsideTrack directly. 

Why National Guard

David Merriman, director of the department of health and human Services , said he became a fan of Guards members during the COVID-19 pandemic. They helped administer thousands of vaccine doses at Cleveland State University’s Wolstein Center, distribute food during food drives, and even have worked at the county’s jail, he said.

“Those three experiences helped me understand that these are residents of Ohio who are working to ensure public safety,” he said. “But they’re also serving in areas that are really critical to our community’s economic stability.” 

Merriman has long had an interest in the workforce, too, he said. Local businesses and industries need qualified candidates. Guard members have great experiences and skills, he added, but “maybe not necessarily the formal education and training that’s needed to make strong steps into these professions.” 

“It really felt like an exciting opportunity to tie together a lot of goals and to approach a well-established problem differently,” Merriman said.  

He oversaw a similar program with that “Pay for Success” model several years ago. It aimed to help unhoused families or those facing housing insecurity who lost custody of their children. Though it didn’t hit its specific metrics, people learned related lessons, the Plain Dealer reported in 2020

What comes next

This pilot program is expected to help support 510 current members of the Ohio National Guard. Since the program launched earlier this month, officials said there’s no available data to show how many people have enrolled yet. 

InsideTrack is working to market the offering, according to officials. They’ve put flyers with information in local armories. All eligible members were emailed about the initiative, and Guard leaders are working to make people aware of the program, too, officials added. 

Find out more by visiting the Ohio National Guard’s website

Higher Education Reporter (she/her)
Amy, who’s worked in both local and national newsrooms for nearly a decade, previously covered higher education at Crain's Cleveland Business in partnership with the national nonprofit news organization Open Campus. A first-generation college graduate, Amy is committed to highlighting the voices of students in her coverage.