News and Tribune

October 4, 2012

Higher ed for Hoosiers: Lubbers talks about how to get more degrees in the hands of Indiana adults

By JEROD CLAPP
jerod.clapp@newsandtribune.com

JEFFERSONVILLE — Having met with local community leaders and on her way to an event at Jeffersonville High School, Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers stopped to talk about her office’s initiatives to get more Hoosiers educated beyond their high school diplomas.

With the state’s goal of getting post-secondary credentials — one year training, two and four year degrees — in 60 percent of adults’ hands by 2025, she said there’s a lot to do in the next 12 years.

She said right now, about 33 percent of Indiana’s adults have that kind of education and there will be some challenges to raise it.

“It’s a hard number to move,” Lubbers said. “In fact, in this country, we haven’t really moved the education attainment level significantly in four decades. And its especially challenging for Indiana where we’ve been a state that people did not need a high degree of education to get a decent job in the past.”

As part of a tour around the state, Lubbers will visit eight regions and meet with community leaders, then show students and parents a documentary about four high school seniors and the decisions they made to become the first in their families to pursue college called “First Generation.”

But she said there are several mechanisms K-12 institutions, colleges and communities will need to implement to help reach those goals.

She said first, the conversation about college has to begin before high school, maybe even while the student is just starting middle school.

With programs like 21st Century Scholars — where seventh- and eighth-graders pledge good citizenship and possibly get four years of undergraduate tuition at participating universities — can help students get their education after graduating high school.

But she said talking to students that early will also help students make decisions like what kind of diploma they’ll pursue in high school — Core 40, Academic Honors or others — to increase their chances of getting into their college of choice.

But she also said many students are coming out of high school unprepared for higher education, taking remedial courses that don’t count for college credit, increasing their debt and amount of time in school — all metrics she said adds to students dropping out of college.

“Unfortunately, we have students who are graduating with Core 40 and still need remediation,” Lubbers said. “That’s one of the reasons we talk about academic rigor as well as completion. You need to complete, but you need to complete with a degree that matters.”

From there, she said students also need good advising when they get to college, knowing what courses they need to take before they start signing up for courses that won’t count toward their degrees.

She said part of the work will be to convince older generations that the job market they lived in isn’t like the one young people are about to enter today.

But she said Wednesday’s meeting with community leaders went well, with no pushback about how their education experiences worked for them, no matter what level they completed.

But she said some of the metrics in this region — including Clark and Floyd counties — look good. Students are increasing their ISTEP+ scores, more students are taking Advanced Placement Courses and the introduction of the International Baccalaureate program is on the way to New Albany-Floyd County schools.

With support from communities and schools, Lubbers said she thinks the state can reach its goal, but only if students also take advantage of the opportunities around them.

“This is a student responsibility, too,” Lubbers said. “It’s them taking some ownership for preparing for their future.”