Indiana has established an incredibly challenging goal with respect to higher education. To stay competitive, Indiana’s colleges and universities have been asked to produce 10,000 more bachelor degrees each year between now and the year 2025.
As formidable as this might seem, it makes sense. Indiana now ranks 43rd among the 50 states in the percentage of adults who hold bachelor's degrees, and employers report that it can be difficult to find qualified employees for the kinds of jobs that provide income security for families and communities. Indeed, 55 percent of all jobs that will open in Indiana between now and 2018 will require postsecondary education. We have to do better.
So how do we get there from here? First, performance at the K-12 level has to improve. Some 28 percent of Hoosier ninth-graders fail to complete high school on time. Indiana stands 30th among the 50 states in this measure of performance.
Second, our persistence-to-graduate rates at the college level will need to improve. Indiana ranks 21st among the 50 states in the percentage of students who earn their degrees within six years. Like some other institutions, Calumet College of St. Joseph has worked hard over the last five years to improve performance in this regard. The results have been positive, but there is no easy fix.
It is expensive to provide the kind of remedial and support services so many of today’s freshmen need. And it requires a willingness to do whatever it takes – in terms of curriculum design and delivery – on the part of a faculty and administrative team.
Third, additional financial aid will be required. Indiana cannot significantly increase the percentage of its population that holds four-year degrees if the 15.3 percent of our citizens who live below the poverty line are left behind.
Financing a college education has become increasingly difficult. Indiana is a relatively generous state with respect to student aid. Even more will be required, however, if the state’s goal is to be achieved.
Finally, more adults will need to do whatever it takes to get back into school. Only 5.6 percent of Hoosier adults who have yet to earn a bachelor degree are now enrolled in college. The compares to 8.4 percent of adults in the top 10 performing states. In fact, this might be the biggest hurdle of all.
Some adults are intimidated by school. They doubt they can succeed. Those of us who work in higher education know, however, that adults bring a variety of skills and abilities with them to the academic experience. Adults often fail to appreciate what they have gained over a lifetime of experience. We know that they can and do succeed.
Indiana can achieve its higher education goal. In fact, it has no choice. Education is the key to the long-term well-being of Hoosier families and the communities in which they reside.