Indiana panel sets new college degree goals

March 28, 2012
A plan to increase the number of college degrees in Indiana won unanimous approval Wednesday from the Indiana Education Roundtable, but members acknowledged it won't be an easy task.

The "Reaching Higher, Achieving More" resolution looks to increase on-time graduation rates at both two- and four-year campuses and double the number of college graduates produced in the state by 2025. The plan also aims to have 60 percent of Indiana adults with college degrees by 2025.

Gov. Mitch Daniels acknowledged that achieving that goal would be "a real stretch" but said it was an attainable number, even though Indiana has struggled in recent years to improve its post-secondary graduation rate. Only about a third of Indiana adults currently hold post-secondary diplomas, ranking the state 40th in the nation, according to the Lumina Foundation.

The stakes are high. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts more than half of the jobs that will be available in the state by 2018 will require a college degree.

The new plan addresses concerns that too few students complete their degrees on time. Just 28 percent of those attending four-year public schools and 4 percent of those at two-year public institutions graduate on time.

The state will now limit academic programs to 120 credits for bachelor's degrees and 60 credits for an associate program to help students complete their degrees sooner. Those limits were part of legislation Gov. Mitch Daniels signed into law earlier this month.

Schools will be encouraged to improve their remedial education programs, must set annual goals to reduce student debt loads and will be required to provide public information on job placement rates for degree programs.

Larry Isaak, president of the Midwestern Higher Education Compact, which promotes educational access in 12 Midwestern states, praised the state's goal of having 60 percent of adults with college degrees. But he said Indiana needs to work on expanding its base of college-ready students and getting them started sooner after graduation.

Indiana University President Michael McRobbie said he supported the education panel's goals but would need more funding from the Legislature, which has continued to shrink its allocation to universities.

"There's a limit to how much we can provide a product of the same quality with reduced resources," McRobbie said.

The roundtable, which includes Daniels, top state education officials, lawmakers and representatives from schools, universities and other groups, proposed the "Reaching Higher, Achieving More" as the successor to a 2008 strategic initiative called "Reaching Higher." That plan aimed to improve graduation rates, expand the role of community colleges in the state and better prepare students at the outset of post-secondary education.

The 2008 plan noted that 54.7 percent of Indiana students at four-year colleges graduated within six years of enrollment, just below the national average, and set a goal of being one of the top five states in this metric by 2012.

Instead, Indiana's rate has declined to 53 percent.

Indiana Commissioner of Higher Education Teresa Lubbers said Indiana's graduation rates have been especially low in recent years because few students are taking the more traditional, four-year residential college path. Instead, more students are taking fewer courses over a longer period to manage costs. Many are often balancing jobs as well.

Currently, 40 percent of Indiana college students are 25 or older and 59 percent attend school part-time, according to the roundtable.

"The non-traditional student has become the majority, and we need to acknowledge that," Lubbers said.

Lubbers acknowledged that the number of Indiana adults with college degrees hasn't budged much in four decades.

"We know it's tough," she said.

But she and Daniels remained optimistic that the state will meet its goals.

"We'll get there," Daniels said.


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