Higher ed commission seeks to keep colleges current

Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers, far right, talks to someone as commission Chairman Dennis Bland reviews the agenda. The commission met Thursday at Purdue University Calumet campus in Hammond.

HAMMOND | The world has changed, and colleges and universities have to ensure they are doing the right thing by students heading to college  for a degree, said Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers.

Lubbers said the best advice she can give to students is to work really hard during their high school years, and to take the "most rigorous" courses.

"Marion County and Lake County have the highest number of 21st Century Scholars," Lubbers said.

"Some of the schools here have a grad rate higher than the state average. The next step beyond that is important. Did you get the academic honors diploma? That's important but not an obstacle. What is the right fit for the student? Is it a community college or a four-year university? Should it be close to home or far away?"

The Indiana Commission for Higher Education met Thursday at Purdue University Calumet in Hammond. It regularly meets at campuses around the state and last met in Northwest Indiana at the PUC campus in June 2009. During a break in the meeting, Lubbers spoke with The Times about various initiatives.

Lubbers said college completion remains important and will always be a focus, along with on-time graduation. She said Ivy Tech Community College Northwest had a significant improvement with a 6 percent boost in college completion, bringing it to 10 percent.

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"That means those students completing their associate degree in two years," Lubbers said. "There had to be some real effort there to get to that percentage."

Lubbers said the college completion rate did not improve at four-year institutions, and another year in college costs a student about $50,000.

The commission launched a campaign earlier this year to provide a link between work and education. Lubbers said high school students, as well as college students, need internship experiences to help them make the connections between school and work.

Lubbers said the commission also is interested in competency-based education, as a new model in college degree attainment, which does not depend on credit hours. It's a form of learning that awards students for skills they display rather than the credit hours they receive, Lubbers said. She said it's the model used by WGU Indiana which has had immensely high passage rates.

While the commission has been around since 1971, not many people know exactly what it does. The commission was set up by state statute as a coordinating board for colleges and universities. It can approve degree programs at public institutions across the state and makes recommendations to the Legislature regarding capital projects and how to spend the $1.9 billion a year annually distributed to colleges and universities. The state budget agency then releases the dollars.

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Southlake County Reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.