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Letter: More college graduates, less debt good for state

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Note: The statements, views, and opinions contained in this letter to the editor are those of the author and are not endorsed by, nor do they necessarily reflect, the opinions of Daily Journal.

Teresa Lubbers

Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education

To the editor:

Education beyond high school has never been more essential, but Hoosiers — both as individuals and as taxpayers — often aren’t getting their full return on investment from higher education today.

We have too few students who graduate and even fewer who graduate on time. We are producing too few degrees, especially in high-demand fields. And we have too much student debt, especially for those who exit college with debt and no degree.

The Commission for Higher Education’s new “Return on Investment” report shows these realities in vivid terms. Only three in 10 Hoosier students complete a four-year degree on time, and less than one in 10 earns a two-year degree on time.

An additional year of college can cost a Hoosier student $50,000 or more in extra tuition, lost wages and related expenses. Taking longer not only costs students and taxpayers more, it also dramatically decreases the odds that students will graduate at all.

Indiana’s big goal is to increase the number of Hoosiers with higher education to 60 percent of the state’s population by 2025. But Indiana confronts a big gap: Only a third of Hoosiers have more than a high school diploma, while nearly two-thirds of jobs this decade will require further education that includes quality one-year workforce certificates, two-year associate degrees, four-year bachelor’s degrees and beyond.

The bottom line is that Indiana must increase its quantity of college graduates without sacrificing academic quality, and we reject the notion that these goals are incompatible.

It’s clear, though, that business as usual won’t get us to our big goal, and the state of Indiana, our colleges and universities and Hoosier students themselves must each take specific steps now to increase Indiana’s return on investment.

With that in mind, we’re asking the Indiana General Assembly this session to sustain support for a performance-based funding formula that drives dollars to colleges based on key success measures, to increase the state’s overall investment in higher education, and to create new financial aid incentives that reward students for performing academically and graduating on time.

We’re calling for Indiana colleges to limit any increases in tuition and fees for Hoosier students at or below the rate of inflation and to promote degree maps and advising practices that encourage students to graduate on time with minimal debt. We need Hoosier students to start college academically prepared, to complete at least 30 credits each year, and to limit (as a general rule) the amount they borrow for college to no more than their expected annual starting salary after graduation.

Success is a shared responsibility, and each of us has a part to play. If there was ever a time for bold action to increase our return on investment, it is now as we commit to make Indiana better and stronger through higher education.

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