The Indiana Higher Education Commission’s push to lure recent college dropouts back to campus is a smart move that can pay off economically statewide. Experts estimate that, by 2020, two-thirds of all U.S. jobs will require some kind of post-secondary degree or certification. Yet, less than 35 percent of working-age Hoosiers hold such credentials.
Another 22 percent of adult Indiana residents have some schooling past high school but never finished a degree. Those 750,000 Hoosiers are the higher education commission’s target population, particularly younger adults who might be more inclined to return to school because they aren’t many years removed from the educational environment. The commission’s Return and Complete program will introduce a bevy of initiatives at the state’s public colleges to counter adult realities—such as scheduling difficulties, steep costs (an estimated $50,000 annually in a combination of tuition and lost wages) and child care—that present barriers to returning to finish a college degree.
Targeting young adults, and those who are short of a degree by only a few credits, is wise on the commission’s part. The state is most likely to see a return on investment from former students who have the fewest obstacles and the most incentive to finish what they once started. IHCE officials will start reaching out to former students this spring and are encouraging Indiana public colleges to dangle tuition discounts, financial aid and even grade forgiveness. They’re also urging schools to waive leftover unpaid fees or fines as bait.
We join IHCE in encouraging these steps. Any concessions within reason that Indiana’s higher education institutions can offer former students will pay off for the entire state. It’s well-documented that higher education leads to higher income for an individual; in fact, an IHCE report calculated that difference to equal an average $1 million more income over a lifetime.
But Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation research has found a broader benefit, too— namely, that “societies with higher educational attainment can expect: greater civic and social engagement, higher rates of voter participation and volunteerism, healthier lifestyles, and less dependence on public assistance.”
So far, the legislation passed in 2015 that establishes Return and Complete is an unfunded mandate. IHCE is for now drawing from a $7.5 million grant pool previously used to help part-time students only, but it plans in 2017 to lay documented success before legislators when it asks again for funding. We hope Indiana’s colleges jump on this bandwagon immediately, to ensure that success is evident by next year so we can urge lawmakers to act.•
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