DOUG ROSS: Business in great shape; workforce needs work

2013-05-24T00:00:00Z DOUG ROSS: Business in great shape; workforce needs workBy Doug Ross doug.ross@nwi.com, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 nwitimes.com

Indiana excels in pro-business policies, but the state's workforce policies need work.

That's how I translate the economic report card the Indiana Chamber of Commerce released Wednesday.

The chamber's Indiana Vision 2025 report sets major goals for improving the quality of life not just for businesses, but also for citizens. Some of the goals in the report already have come about.

Most notable are turning Indiana into a right-to-work state last year and eliminating the inheritance tax immediately — it already was being phased out — this year.

But look at educational attainment levels, and it's clear Indiana needs to shift its focus from tax policies to how it spends the taxes it does receive.

Indiana ranks 46th in the nation on the percentage of adults with at least an associate degree. The state ranks 43rd for bachelor's degree or higher.

That's a bad sign. In today's knowledge-based economy, states with high educational attainment levels will be the big winners when it comes to economic development. And if you haven't already figured out the corollary — states like Indiana, with low educational attainment, will be the losers — maybe it's time to go back to school.

How ready for college are high school graduates? The chamber report notes 28.8 percent of students at Indiana's public colleges are enrolled in remedial courses. 

Thomas Coley, chancellor for Ivy Tech Community College's Northwest and North Central regions, said Tuesday about 80 to 90 percent of students nationally require remedial math and 60 to 70 percent remedial English.

Yikes!

The more time spent on remediation, the less time available for the core college classes needed for graduation.

And with financial aid covering only six terms, Coley said, "This has implications for financial aid. The clock is ticking."

Financial aid is an important factor because we all know college is extremely expensive. And Indiana's poverty rate is getting progressively worse — from 12th in the nation in 2000, to 32nd in 2005, to 35th in 2011 — so Hoosiers have less cash in their pockets.

More investment into K-12 education is needed to make sure graduates are ready for college and careers and less likely to have to pay for remedial courses in college.

But investing in K-12 education takes money, and among the reasons Indiana's business climate often ranks high is that business taxes are relatively low.

So how do you get more money for K-12 education? Tax Hoosiers more, when poverty is getting worse? 

Achieving balance between pro-business policies and adequate workforce investments isn't easy, but the conversation needs to happen.

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him at www.facebook.com/doug.ross1 and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.

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