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Column: State must raise education attainment

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Indiana’s second state of higher education address in January offered an opportunity to highlight our recent progress but also to make a compelling case to move with an even greater sense of urgency and purpose. Evidence of Indiana’s growing momentum to establish one of the nation’s best and most student-focused higher education systems is everywhere.

We streamlined college credit requirements to help more students graduate on time. Prior to the passage of legislation two years ago, nearly 90 percent of degree programs at Indiana’s public colleges exceeded the traditional standard of 120 credit hours for a four-year degree and 60 credits for a two-year degree.

The result was students taking longer to graduate and often ending up with more college debt. Today, this obstacle has nearly been eliminated with more than 90 percent of degree programs meeting the accepted standard — a complete reversal. This single, common sense change is estimated to save students and taxpayers more than $35 million a year.

Given that one-third of students graduate from a different college than where they started, no effort has been more important than our work to simplify the transfer of college credit. Recent legislation created a 30-credit hour general education core and streamlined transfer agreements between colleges, student-friendly policies that save Hoosiers time and money and reduce the likelihood that students will be required to retake the same course at another college.

We recognize that far too many students experience college as a maze rather than a pathway to success. In response, Gov. Mike Pence joined the commission in supporting legislation that ensures every Hoosier student has a clear, step-by-step, degree map that guides their way to graduation, and Indiana lawmakers established new credit completion requirements and financial aid incentives that encourage students to earn good grades and stay on track to graduate.

Despite this progress, we cannot afford to be complacent. The comfortable argument says that we’re doing OK. The right one says we can and must do better. In clear — maybe even blunt — words, we must make sure Hoosiers hear this message. In today’s world, if you drop out of high school with few exceptions there are no career pathways.

If you go directly into a job from high school, you need a diploma and a workforce credential. If you go to college — and more Hoosiers need to — you must complete. Otherwise, you leave with no credential, limited options and often debt. Recent graduates should also understand that the preparation needed for the first job won’t be adequate for continued career advancement and upward mobility.

There can be no doubt that we have a long way to go before reaching Indiana’s big goal of 60 percent of Hoosiers having quality degrees and credentials, but the conditions are in place to make meaningful and lasting progress. This is our challenge. This is our opportunity.

Teresa Lubbers is a commissioner at the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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