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College degrees are lagging. Indiana’s higher ed leader is not satisfied

Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Chris Lowery talks during the annual state of higher education address at the Indiana Statehouse on Monday, April 15, 2024.
Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Chris Lowery talks during the annual state of higher education address at the Indiana Statehouse on Monday, April 15, 2024.

Indiana is still lagging on a goal to boost how many working-age adults have training and education beyond their high school diplomas.

The state’s higher education commissioner, Chris Lowery, said that’s unacceptable during the annual state of higher education speech Monday.

Lowery said there’s some progress after more than a decade, such as more people earning technical and industry certificates and hundreds of high schools offering access to college-level courses.

In 2012 Indiana leaders set a target that 60 percent of residents would earn a college degree or credential by 2025. But the state still struggles behind.

“I said last year and will say it again folks, that is simply unacceptable,” Lowery said during the address at the Statehouse.

An annual report from the Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation that tracks credentials and degrees for working-age adults, found the rate for post-high school education is 54 percent. According to the report Indiana's overall rate of attainment increased by 20.3 percentage points since 2009.

But the state is making gains, Lowery said, such as college completion.

"I'm pleased, not satisfied," he said.

These challenges came as Indiana faced a decade-long decline in college enrollment. Last fall, the commission reported about 53 percent of high schoolers who graduated in 2021 went straight to college.

Beyond improving how many adults pursue more learning after high school, Lowery said the commision will strive to build up other education milestones, including the number of students who go to college, how many students complete college and retaining graduates to work in the state.

It’s part of a commission-wide plan called HOPE – Hoosier Opportunities and Possibilities through Education. That challenge is to make Indiana a top 10 state by 2030 in seven education measures like the college-going rate.

“The data and insights from this in-depth study will bring forward additional strategies and initiatives to complement the HOPE Agenda,” Lowery said. “We must understand better the realities, concerns, questions, attitudes, wants, and thinking of consumers, who might be future students and learners.”

During the address, Lowery did point to several “innovative and impactful” initiatives at colleges, such as Indiana University Indianapolis's admissions initiative with Indianapolis Public Schools. Now, seniors who maintain a 3.0 GPA or higher can fill out a form, rather than apply and pay an application fee, to attend the university.

Rachel Fradette is the WFYI Statehouse education reporter. Contact Rachel at rfradette@wfyi.org.

Copyright 2024 WFYI Public Media. To see more, visit WFYI Public Media.

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