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State looks to increase number of college grads


October 09, 2013 | 10:13 AM

The Indiana commissioner for higher education is traveling the state to talk about the importance of improving the state's national ranking in education and personal per capita income. Indiana currently ranks 40th in both categories.

"We have a sense of urgency to dramatically raise the education level of Hoosiers across our state," Teresa Lubbers said. "Our success will depend upon local communities rallying around the common cause of increasing college completion."

Lubbers visited eight counties in the spring and committed to another eight in late summer/early fall, including Harrison, touting the message of Reaching Higher, Achieving More.

She spoke at the Harrison County Community Foundation office Sept. 18 at an event hosted by the county's College Success Coalition. Statewide, coalitions are networks of organizations that are working to increase Hoosiers' access to post-secondary education.

"We certainly need more people in Indiana with a bachelor's degree," Lubbers said.

To put it more bluntly, she said that there's "no chance" of a career pathway for those who drop out of high school.

After obtaining that high school diploma, there are other options that can have an impact besides earning a four-year college degree, such as an associate degree or a certificate from a technical program.

Indiana currently exceeds the national average with 88 percent completing high school (Lubbers said the graduation rate in Harrison County is even higher, at 93.4 percent.) But the lack of higher education leaves Hoosiers earning 9 percent less than the national average.

Lubbers went on to talk about the debt college students have (the average per student is $2,700), how many of them need remediation (70 percent) and then they don't complete college in the desired four years.

"Only about one-third complete (college) on time," Lubbers said, adding that it's estimated that a fifth year of college adds another $50,000 to the cost of the degree.

The state has set a goal, Lubbers said, and that is to have 60 percent of the state's population holding a post-secondary credential of some sort by 2025. She said Indiana now has just more than 33 percent of the population with post-secondary credentials.

"This part of the state has a really good legacy," Lubbers said as she recalled her days in the state Senate when the late Frank O'Bannon was the state's lieutenant governor.

"We need to design our higher education," Lubbers said.

That includes perhaps channeling some students to a two-year program to get the remediation they need before transferring to a four-year institution, she said.

Harrison County's coalition currently has 90 members, Julie Timberlake, a member of the county's coalition steering committee, said. (Lubbers said it may be one of the largest coalitions in the state.) Timberlake said the Harrison County Community Foundation, where she is employed, helps provide scholarships and funds dual-credit programs at the high schools.

Alisa Burch, another steering team member, said the committee has been working on events to help spread the word about the importance of post-secondary education.

The coalition had a college fair Aug. 30 that had about 30 exhibitors and more than 300 registered attendees. A bus tour of colleges for high school juniors in the 21st Century Scholar program is being discussed.

Darrell Voelker, director of the Harrison County Economic Development Corp., and a member of the coalition's steering committee, said he was there because the topic is important to county businesses.

"The EDC supports vocational training with businesses," he said, adding that often the training is acceptable for college credit.

Lubbers told those at the program that they won't fail for lack of effort.

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Corydon Democrat, 301 N. Capitol Ave., Corydon, IN 47112 • 1-812-738-2211 • email