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2/22/2012 9:41:00 AM
State wants 60 percent of Hoosiers to have post-secondary degrees by 2025

Maureen Hayden, Goshen News CNHI Statehouse Bureau Chief

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana higher-education policymakers are getting ready to adopt an aggressive college-completion plan that will push the state’s universities to reel in their rising costs and dramatically improve their graduation rates.

The plan sets the goal of increasing the percent of Hoosiers with post-secondary degrees to 60 percent by 2025 — nearly doubling the current rate.

To get there, the plan calls for the state’s universities to set specific targets for graduating students on time, decreasing the student debt load and accelerating degree programs that match the state’s work force needs.

Some university presidents are already balking at the plan’s goal and directives, which are set to be adopted by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

But Teresa Lubbers, who heads the commission, said the plan is needed to pull Indiana up to where it needs to be to fill a void in the state’s human capital.

“We are digging ourselves out of a very big hole,” Lubbers told a group of university officials who saw a preview of the plan Tuesday. “We need aggressive goals.”

Driving the plan are some dismal numbers: Indiana ranks 42nd in the nation for college graduates and third in the nation for student-loan defaults. Meanwhile, the state’s four-year universities graduate less than one-third of their students on time, but have increased their tuition and fees by more than 100 percent over the past decade.

Indiana’s low college-graduation rate puts Indiana in peril; the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that more than half the job vacancies by 2018 will require someone with a college degree or other post-secondary credentials.

The plan to reverse that course, dubbed “Reaching Higher, Achieving More,” offers some specific remedies to counter those numbers.

For example, the plan calls on universities to set annual targets for improving the cost-per-degree ratio at their campuses; to streamline some four-year degrees into three-year degrees; and to publicly release information on their graduates’ job placement rates and earnings.

Lubbers previewed the plan at a meeting of the Indiana College Completion Council, a new organization made up of the state’s public, private and for-profit universities and colleges.

While some council members, including Indiana State University President Dan Bradley, questioned whether the 60 percent college-degree rate was attainable by 2025, other university presidents seemed to question the premise on which the plan was built.

University of Southern Indiana President Linda Bennett said USI students don’t see graduating on time as a priority.

Ball State University President Jo Ann Gora said she didn’t think it was “appropriate” for the state’s universities to push their students to pursue math and science degrees that are already in high demand in the workplace. She also said she wanted the commission to do more to convince parents that Indiana’s average student debt load of $27,000 isn’t exorbitant.

Other university officials at the meeting blamed the state’s K-12 schools, saying students were coming to college ill-prepared to do the work.

But the “Reaching Higher, Achieving More” plan rejects those notions and calls upon the state’s universities to act more aggressively. It notes, for example, that 90 percent of teachers in Indiana’s K-12 schools earned their degrees from Indiana colleges and universities. So it calls on those institutions to do a better job of teaching their teachers, and to be more engaged with the state’s K-12 schools.

The plan is prescriptive but with limited clout. The Commission for Higher Education can’t force the state’s universities to adopt the plan’s goals. But the commission does recommend funding levels for the state’s public universities, and the Indiana Legislature has adopted a funding formula that ties some higher-education dollars to meeting the commission’s goals.

Related Stories:
• Indiana set to release ambitious plan to raise college degree numbers
• College credit transfer bill awaits governor's signature
• State pushing colleges to grant more degrees faster

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