Higher ed commission wants $5M to promote Indiana colleges, universities

The Indiana Commission for Higher Education wants to do more to promote the value of a college degree, and it is seeking $5 million to do it.

Chris Lowery, the state’s higher education commissioner, appeared before the State Budget Committee on Wednesday to outline the agency’s 2023-2025 budget recommendations, which included $5 million for marketing and communications to “launch a grassroots, statewide campaign” to “promote the value of higher education to individuals and Indiana’s economy.”

The proposal is one in a long list of ideas floated to reverse a downward trend in Indiana’s college-going rate, which plummeted from 65% in 2015 to 53% in 2020, the lowest in a generation, according to a widely circulated report from the commission.

“Our institutions offer good value,” Lowery told the committee. “I don’t know if it’s Hoosier humility, but there are far too many Hoosiers who don’t know what’s available.”

The agency also asked for $7 million in funding to maintain and expand three adult education programs.

Sen. Liz Brown, a Fort Wayne Republican who serves on the State Budget Committee, said she felt the responsibility of promoting college should fall on high schools and expressed concern that the commission was becoming unwieldy.

“I understand we need credentials, workforce development and training, but that’s a lot of things to stick on the wall from your agency, and that’s what’s distressing to me,” Brown said.

Sen. Ryan Mishler, a Republican from northern Indiana who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, asked whether lower enrollment could be attributed to recent wage growth, but Lowery said fewer young people are entering the workforce.

“Labor participation rates among 18- to 25-year-olds have been declining,” Lowery said. It’s not what I expected,” adding that the decline has been “even steeper for young men.”

Despite Indiana’s public college tuition and fees decreasing by 4% over the past five years, fewer Hoosiers are seeking degrees. Indiana ranks 38th in college-going rate, 40th in retaining college students and 14th in attracting out-of-state residents to come to college.

While earning a college degree isn’t the only way to reach financial security, studies show that having some sort of college education greatly increases the likelihood that a person will earn a higher wage. Hoosiers without a high school diploma earn an average of $39,000 per year, compared to $72,000 for those with a bachelor’s degree or more.

There’s also projected to be a greater demand for jobs that require some sort of college education over the next decade, both at the national level and in Indiana, particularly in health care, manufacturing and STEM industries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Many employers already struggle to find workers. There are twice as many job openings in Indiana as there are jobseekers, according to the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. In a chamber survey of 992 employers, 83% said meeting talent is a challenge, and over half said it was their biggest challenge.

The Governor’s Workforce Cabinet recently released a list of 30 recommendations for addressing the state’s talent shortage, including more incentives for STEM degrees and increased funding for workforce development programs.

In 2012, Indiana set a goal that 60% of working-age Hoosiers will have a quality college degree or credential by the year 2025. Indiana’s rate currently sits at just over 48 percent, and Lowery is not optimistic.

“We will not reach that goal,” he said.

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2 thoughts on “Higher ed commission wants $5M to promote Indiana colleges, universities

  1. The Republican’s strangle hold on education spending is finally coming home to roost. The companion article notes that Perry township can’t even afford to bus kids to school. Failure to adequately fund preschool and public schools has got us into this mess. How about the millions wasted on fraudulent and unaccountable charter schools? Maybe consider increased college scholarships to get the best and brightest students in Indiana colleges & universities?

  2. What a waste of $5 million. It would be better spent if used to make community college in Indiana free for Indiana high school graduates regardless of their grade point averages.

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