Higher education commission updates progress, work left to do

Indiana’s higher education czar celebrated some early wins in an address Monday but acknowledged the work still to be done to improve enrollment and completion of higher education degrees.

“With the combined efforts of policy, partnerships, and programming, driven by clear strategy and goals, underpinned by a strong strategic management process, and with an understanding of and service to students at the heart, we are working to create a culture in Indiana around the importance of higher education and more broadly training and education beyond a high school diploma,” said Indiana Higher Education Commissioner Chris Lowery.

Progress includes an uptick in higher education enrollment and Indiana now placing 11th in the nation for its college completion rate.

College enrollment increased by nearly 5,000 students, or two percent, compared to the fall 2022 school year making 2023 the first year enrollment in Indiana has increased in the past 13 years. Over 244,000 students, both undergraduate and graduate, enrolled in one of Indiana’s public higher education institutions during the fall 2023 school year.

Both improvements are part of the goals set by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education’s HOPE agenda, or Hoosier Opportunities and Possibilities through Education, launched last year. Additional address remarks included wins from the 2024 legislative session.

The seven goals outlined by the Commission’s HOPE agenda include making Indiana a top-ranked state in the following areas by 2030:

  • Post-high school training and education going rates for youth and adults, across all demographics;
  • Postsecondary attainment for veterans, individuals with disabilities, and the justice-involved;
  • Utilization of credit for prior learning to honor the work, training, and education already achieved by adult learners;
  • The rate at which Hoosiers successfully complete their chosen areas of study;
  • Retaining talent once someone has graduated from a postsecondary training or education program;
  • Measurable distinction in economic and social mobility and prosperity outcomes, and;
  • As the recognized state for growing or starting a business, based upon the strength of human capital.

The commission’s Partnership Pentagon, composed of business and education leaders along with government and community stakeholders, is tasked with understanding those goals and proposing solutions to Indiana’s higher education challenges.

Past commission efforts include a pre-admission program designed to encourage more Hoosier students to pursue secondary education. A 2022 report found that Indiana’s college-going rate not only lags behind the nation but is also declining, falling short of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s goal to to have 60% of Hoosiers equipped with a quality degree or credential beyond high school by 2025.

Currently, the rate is just over 48%.

Lawmakers made some effort to increase affordability in 2024, such as increasing the Frank O’Bannon grant award by 35% and granting automatic enrollment for eligible 21st Century Scholars — the latter of which doubled the number of scholars in the 2027 graduating class from 20,000 to over 40,000.

Indiana also became the 8th state to required high school seniors complete FAFSA, a federal grant program, prior to graduation. However, the 2024 FAFSA enrollment cohort has been inundated with technical glitches when attempting to enroll.

Additionally, the General Assembly made efforts to expand degree options and require high schools to offer classes in the Indiana College Core under Senate Enrolled Act 8 — which won praise from Lowery for also establishing a reverse transfer process.

“[Senate Enrolled Act 8] helps individuals who ultimately would have stopped out after earning enough credit for an associate degree,” said Lowery. “All of these elements in Senate Enrolled Act 8 are aimed squarely at making college attainment more likely through increased accessibility and affordability.”

Lowery’s address additionally shared some “early indicators of progress, including the uptick in higher education enrollment and progress on college completion rates. Other commission initiatives, including recommendations focused on adult populations like veterans, are in progress.

“Last year was the wake-up call, and this year the data tell us we are on the right path, but work remains,” said Lowery.

By Whitney Downard Indiana Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Indiana Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Niki Kelly for questions: [email protected]. Follow Indiana Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.