Indiana: Embracing a shared responsibility for increasing student success

Teresa Lubbers
Commissioner, Indiana Commission for Higher Education

Like most of the nation and especially the Midwest, Indiana is in the midst of an economic transformation that demands more highly educated and skilled citizens. At the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, we often note that it’s no coincidence that our state ranks 41st nationally in both education attainment and per capita personal income. We recognize that raising Hoosier incomes and replacing the middle-wage, middle-skill jobs that have been lost in recent years calls for a new sense of urgency in increasing college completion and education attainment.

Our bottom line is ensuring that more Hoosiers earn quality higher education credentials on time and at the lowest possible cost. That is the premise behind our “Reaching Higher, Achieving More” strategic plan, an ambitious set of targeted strategies, metrics and data targets focused on increasing college completion, productivity and academic quality—all leading to the ultimate goal of raising the proportion of Hoosiers with education beyond high school to 60 percent of the state’s population by the year 2025.

With less than a third of Hoosiers having completed higher education today, bridging the gap to our big goal is a shared responsibility that must be owned jointly by our state, by Indiana’s colleges and universities, and by Hoosier students themselves.

It was with these challenges and opportunities in mind that I offered Indiana’s first State of Higher Education Address this past January. It served as an important opportunity to raise the visibility of our shared education attainment agenda, to engage more Hoosiers in the conversation, and to advance policy priorities linked to student success. The address, our legislative agenda, and a new Return on Investment Report released as a companion-piece to Commission’s strategic plan reflected these priorities with specific calls to action for each of these core stakeholders:

·         State: We asked the Indiana General Assembly to reverse a downward trend in state support for higher education, to drive more dollars to our colleges through a performance-based funding formula and to create new student financial aid incentives and clearer pathways to on-time degree completion.

·         Colleges:  In exchange for an increased state investment in higher education, we called on Indiana colleges to keep tuition and fee increases below the rate of inflation and to promote college advising and financial aid policies that encourage students to graduate on time with minimal debt.

·         Students: Finally, we encouraged Indiana college students to complete at least 15 credit hours per semester (30 credits per year) to graduate on time, and (as a general rule) limit the amount they borrow for college to no more than their expected annual starting salary after graduation.

The response to the Commission's call to action has been significant. Indiana lawmakers passed a biennial budget that included the largest increase in state support for higher education in all but one year of the past three decades. Moreover, legislators embraced the Commission's call to pay for what we value as a state by increasing the level of performance funding through formula that rewards improved degree completion, persistence and productivity. Lawmakers also adopted new student-friendly measures that created financial aid incentives tied to credit completion and academic achievement, required degree maps for every Indiana college student and established single articulation pathways that promise to further streamline credit transfer between our colleges and universities.

Indiana's higher education institutions also responded to the Commission's call to control college costs. With a couple exceptions, our colleges abided by the Commission's recommendation to hold tuition increases below the rate of inflation. The majority of Indiana colleges adopted tuition increases of less than 2 percent per year, and one institution—Purdue University—led by example with their decision to freeze tuition rates for the next two years.

Building on this momentum, our Commission will host a special first-of-its-kind summit this fall that will bring together broad-based campus teams to focus on implementing high-impact strategies that provide Indiana college students with clearer and more direct paths to on-time degree completion. Framed by the findings from a new state study on college advising policies and practices, the convening will feature implementation guidance and support related to the new degree map legislation, best practices in proactive student advising, and the unveiling of Indiana's new "15 to Finish" campaign (based on a successful initiative launched by the state of Hawaii).

Indiana's "15 to Finish" campaign will drive home the importance of students completing at least 15 credit hours per semester in order to stay on track to graduate on time and minimize college debt. This effort reflects the final aspect of Indiana's call for shared responsibility, the responsibility that must be owned by students themselves. Indiana's higher education system must continue to make strides in becoming more student-centered, but students must do their part as well by making smarter choices and taking advantage of the resources and supports provided to them.

We undoubtedly have a long way to go before reaching Indiana’s big goal for increased education attainment, but the conditions are being set to realize real, lasting and meaningful progress for our students and our state.

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Teresa Lubbers has served as Indiana’s Commissioner for Higher Education since 2009. Learn more about the Commission and its “Reaching Higher, Achieving More” strategic plan at www.che.in.gov.