Internships, employment training could become Indiana high school graduation requirement

Members of Indiana's Graduation Pathways Panel met Thursday at the State Library to begin crafting a new high school graduation requirement focused on college- and career-readiness.

Dan Carden, The Times

INDIANAPOLIS — Hoosier high school students next year may encounter a new, possibly onerous graduation requirement.

The Republican-controlled Indiana General Assembly in April directed the State Board of Education to replace high school graduation exams with a so-far undefined "graduation pathway" that demonstrates a student's college or career readiness.

House Enrolled Act 1003 suggested the requirement might be satisfied by mandating students take a college entrance exam or earn an industry-recognized vocational credential while in high school.

But exactly how high to set the new graduation hurdle was left up to the state school board, in conjunction with the Department of Workforce Development and Commission for Higher Education.

On Thursday, the 14 members of Indiana's Graduation Pathways Panel met for the first of eight sessions, scheduled over the next four months, to devise a recommendation for the State Board of Education to adopt that would be in effect for the 2018-19 school year.

The meeting focused on the workforce development needs of business and industry, and what role the state should play in helping companies secure the skilled workers they need at the wage rates they want to pay.

Representatives from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Indiana Manufacturers Association recommended high school students be obligated to complete an internship, or receive other specialized training directed by local employers, to satisfy the graduation pathway requirement.

That idea resonated with B.J Watts, a state school board member from Evansville, who proposed reverse-engineering the entire Hoosier education system from kindergarten through college so the workforce needs of Indiana's employers are paramount.

Other committee members appeared inclined to support work experience as a graduation pathway among other to-be-determined options.

"One of the reasons for this panel is a fundamental misalignment between the knowledge and skills of our students who are graduating, and what business, industry and higher education needs," said Byron Ernest, panel chairman and state school board member.

"We also recognize that there are many pathways to success," he said. "Let's put it all on the table and let's figure out what's best for our children."

Jennifer McCormick, the Republican state superintendent of public instruction, reminded the panel that any graduation pathways it recommends need to be paid for using limited existing resources, and equally available to students in communities large and small across the state.

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Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.