Career education

Jackson Bais demonstrates the use of an oxygen acetylene torch for cutting steel at the Hammond Area Career Center in 2018. The state is trying to align its higher education and vocational training opportunities with Indiana's workforce needs.

Indiana has set a big goal: that by 2025, at least 60% of our state’s population will have quality education and training beyond high school that align to workforce opportunity.

Today, we are at just over 43% in that metric. Clearly, we have work to do to close the gap.

One way we evaluate the impact of our state’s higher education system for learners, educators, institutions and Indiana’s economy, is by understanding how many people are completing a degree or credential at our higher education institutions.

This measurement enables understanding of how we are effectively moving students through our education systems, from preschool through post-secondary and into careers.

The data in the Indiana Commission for Higher Education’s newest Indiana Completion Report offer a gauge for how well we are preparing Hoosiers for not just today’s economy, but also the economy of the future.

There is good news on this front. Data in the report show the percentage of students graduating from Indiana’s public two- and four-year campuses is increasing. Over 40% of all public college students in Indiana graduate on-time (an increase of almost 13 percentage points over five years). Close to two-thirds (61.8%) complete within six years, an increase of nearly 5 percentage points in five years.

Affordability doesn’t have to be a barrier

On-time completion will always be the best and most affordable path for Hoosiers. Delaying graduation means learners pay more. It also decreases the likelihood they will graduate at all. Even for students who attend part-time, we can reduce the amount of time it takes students to earn a credential.

We know there are circumstances that can prevent learners from finishing on-time. But the ability to afford to seek education and training should not be one of those barriers.

Again, there is good news to share in our state. Indiana ranks fourth in the country — and first in the Midwest — for providing need-based financial aid.

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These are just a few of the financial aid options available for Hoosiers:

• The 21st Century Scholars early college promise program, which turns 30 next year, provides up to four years of tuition to income-eligible students who apply in the seventh or eighth grade and complete the Scholars Success Program.

• Indiana’s Workforce Ready Grant provides high-value certificates in the state’s highest demand sectors for high schoolers and adults.

• And we encourage Hoosier adults to take advantage of the You Can. Go Back. initiative, which offers a renewable $2,000 grant for returning adult students.

Indiana has a financial aid solution that can provide the right fit for every learner.

Quality is key

Finally, our completion and affordability conversation must also include the topic of quality. Through Indiana’s performance funding model, institutions are tasked with — and rewarded for — ensuring students persist, complete and finish their credentials on-time.

While Indiana’s public institutions have made huge strides since the state’s performance funding metrics were put into place, our work is far from over.

We need to ensure that more high school students graduate college-ready. We must continue the efforts to encourage adult learners to go back and finish their degrees. We need to support our low-income and minority populations. We have to ensure our institutions are providing quality degrees and credentials.

The Commission is releasing its fourth strategic plan later this year, “Reaching Higher in a State of Change,” in which we will address these issues — and more — as we continue to move closer to 2025. These challenges are complex. There are no easy solutions. But together, we can build upon Indiana’s successes and ensure a ready and talented workforce for the future of our state.

Teresa Lubbers is the Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education. The opinions are the writer's.