Graduates tossing hatsby Derek Redelman
Published in The Indianapolis Star, May 7, 2010

As reported in various media outlets, Gov. Daniels suggested at the recent H. Kent Weldon Conference for Higher Education that our public colleges and universities should offer more opportunities for three-year degrees.

That is certainly one option for improving education attainment levels, but the governor’s challenge to our state’s higher education leaders went far beyond that single idea.

He also called for a continuing differentiation of missions and, especially, the elimination of remediation and two-year degrees at our four-year colleges. He encouraged our colleges to focus on education and to get out of any business that, as he noted, can be found in the Yellow Pages. And he gave his unequivocal support for Indiana’s shift to performance-based funding, by which the state will fund colleges based on completion of degrees rather than enrollment.

On a broader level, the governor called on the leadership and faithful supporters of our individual institutions to recognize the important role that they play for our entire state and to seek more opportunities for cooperation and collaboration.

That may sound like a difficult request for schools that are rivals and competitors on the court or field, but it is absolutely critical if Indiana expects to compete nationally and internationally.

The Indiana Chamber applauds the governor’s challenges and is committed to the work. Through a grant awarded from the Lumina Foundation, the chamber is leading a team of business and higher education leaders to help improve the productivity of Indiana’s system of higher education institutions. Our goals include the continued expansion of Indiana’s performance-based funding system, engagement of trustees and other higher education leaders to embrace an aggressive productivity agenda and continued productivity improvements at our regional campuses.

The Lumina Foundation, which funded this conference through our grant, has been relentless in this charge. As it has noted, the percentage of U.S. adults with a post-secondary degree has fallen from first in the world to 10th. Indiana’s rank as a state is even lower. Like so many other measures of education achievement, it’s not a problem of declining performance, but it is instead the result of our competitors catching up and surpassing us.

For 40 years, about 40 percent of U.S. adults have had post-secondary degrees. In Indiana, the number is lower. To this day, older Americans (ages 55-64) continue to lead the world in their college attainment. But the attainment of younger Americans (ages 25-34) has already been passed by Canada, Japan and several European countries, among others. Meanwhile, the attainment levels in those countries continue to rise rapidly while the U.S. maintains its 40-year-old position.

To retain our competitive advantage, Lumina suggests that the U.S. needs to raise its college attainment to 60 percent by 2025. A 50 percent increase in just 15 years is certainly ambitious. But it is precisely that kind of growth that differentiates the U.S. from countries like Ireland and Korea, where growth rates in college attainment have exceeded that goal for several years running.

Indiana has done better in recent years in getting our young adults into college. But as a whole, we continue to rank in the bottom 10 states for the percentage of adults who have actually completed a college degree. Obviously, this does not bode well for our long-term prosperity.

And as radical as they may sound to some people in our state, it is the ideas like those offered by Gov. Daniels and the Lumina Foundation that must be explored and embraced if we expect to maintain our leadership position in the world economy.

 

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