Two events this week spotlighted the importance of higher education in Northwest Indiana.
On Thursday, the Urban League of Northwest Indiana recognized Indiana University Northwest, Purdue University Calumet and Valparaiso University for their efforts to promote diversity and inclusion. The region's universities have led the way in this regard.
They also have been key players in economic development. Just look at the Purdue Technology Center in Merrillville if you need evidence of the effort to foster innovation. Look at the Academic Learning Center there, too, because Purdue University Calumet is closing it to help address a $4 million budget deficit.
Indiana University has about $700 million in deferred building maintenance, which is becoming an issue because the regional campuses are showing their age.
There's a lot riding on higher education in Indiana.
At Wednesday's Workforce Summit 2013, the point was made repeatedly that degrees translate into dollars.
The more education a person has, the higher the likely salary.
The Lumina Foundation wants to boost Indiana's educational attainment level, a key statistic for economic development. It's an indication of whether the workforce has the right skills for the job or can be retrained quickly.
"We have made almost no progress in 40 years," Haley Glover, Lumina's strategy director, said at the workforce summit.
The educational attainment level in the United States is about 40 percent. The Lumina Foundation wants to increase the rate to 60 percent by 2025.
Getting to that level means improving the six-year college graduation rates. Glover said 39 million people started college but didn't finish. That's one of Lumina's targets — to get those former students to get an associate degree or high-quality certificate, if not a bachelor's degree.
Calumet College of St. Joseph is addressing this with a "hyper-accelerated" format for students 24 and older, allowing working adults with some college credit to graduate with a bachelor's degree in 12 to 20 months.
Glover wants older students to get college credit for life experiences.
"If we're focusing on seat time rather than learning, we're focusing on the wrong end of the student," Glover said.
It's a good point.
State support for public universities has been shrinking, a study by the State Higher Education Executive Officers says. In 1987, 59 percent of the cost of educating a student came from state support, compared to 41 percent in 2012. Rising tuition rates have made up the difference.
Some colleges have frozen tuition and offered more financial assistance, but federal budget cuts mean students will pay even more for their college loans. So being able to make more means spending more.