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Editorial: Push for college degrees helps students, workforce


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Three in 10 students enrolled at an Indiana four-year college graduated on time, and only half finished within six years, according to a report released last month by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

And at Indiana’s two-year campuses, fewer than one in 10 students finished on time, while 12 percent graduated within three years.

The report takes a close look at the progress of Hoosier students at each stage in postsecondary education. It provides data for both state-level and campus-specific two-year and four-year colleges.

For every 100 students enrolled full time and working toward either a certificate or associate’s degree at Ivy Tech Community College in fall 2007, five students completed within two years. The rate for full-time Ivy Tech students who earned a certificate or degree within two years at the same campus working toward the same degree level was 3.8 percent, while the rate for part-time students accomplishing the same was 1.4 percent.

For every 100 students who enrolled full time in the fall 2005 semester working toward a bachelor’s degree, 53 Indiana University-Bloomington students earned a degree on time, 42 Purdue University students completed in four years, 37 Ball State University students finished, and 25 Indiana State University students completed on time.

“Improving college completion is a complex problem, but overcoming Indiana’s completion challenge begins with a clearer understanding of where we are and where we need to go,” Teresa Lubbers, Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education, said in a statement accompanying release of the report.

Education is clearly the most important investment Hoosier students can make in terms of their professional lives. But failing to complete a program also has an impact on Indiana’s workforce. Many high-tech industries have said their biggest problem right now is finding qualified workers. If students are slow to finish their programs or become discouraged and quit, Indiana industry suffers.

As the higher education commission report indicates, the problem isn’t getting students to enroll. It’s making sure they continue their studies and earn a degree. The state’s colleges and universities need to figure out what is keeping students from completing their programs and then offer them the assistance needed to complete their studies.

At Franklin College, more than half of freshmen complete a degree within four years and 60 percent earn a degree within six years. To help students succeed and keep them on track, the college seeks to make sure students have realistic expectations about college and to provide them with support to help them reach their goals.

In addition, the college seeks to make parents partners in that educational journey, so students have support at home as well.

That process starts when students first contact the college and continues with registration, focused summer before they enroll, freshman orientation in the fall and then throughout their college careers.

For example, one program brings students who are the first in their family to attend college to campus during the summer before they enroll. Presentations address their unique challenges.

Similar efforts at other state colleges could help them improve their program completion rates.

Equally as important, though, local school systems need to assess students early on in their careers to identify weaknesses or problems that would interfere with postsecondary success.

They also must provide counseling for those students and their parents about options and expectations with regard to education after high school. Students need to have realistic ideas about majors and the pathways to program completion. Counseling just before the students register for college classes is hardly enough.

Achieving success will require students, parents, public schools and postsecondary institutions to work together. However, the payoff will big for the students and for the state’s workforce.

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