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January 6, 2014

TERESA LUBBERS: Confronting Indiana's college readiness challenge

K-12, higher ed systems must better collaborate in preparing students.

— For the past few years, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education has produced college readiness reports that show schools and communities how their high school graduates are performing in college. The data is cause for concern: Up to a third of all recent Hoosier high school graduates need remediation when they get to college and the remediation rates are even higher for students who start at community college.

The cost of not being college-ready is significant, both for students and our state. For students, retaking high school-level remedial courses in college dramatically reduces the likelihood they will ever earn a college degree. Fewer than 1 in 4 Indiana college students enrolled in remediation will earn a degree within six years. The cost for the state is significant as well, with the annual cost of remediation estimated to exceed $40 million at Indiana’s community college alone.

Clearly, Indiana must do more to ensure our students graduate with the academic foundation they need to succeed in college and careers. Our K-12 and higher education systems must collaborate more closely to clearly identify what it means to be college-ready, and we must advance early identification and intervention measures that can address students’ academic weaknesses long before they ever set foot on a college campus.

Failing to confront Indiana’s college-readiness challenge isn’t really any alternative at all. Hoosier taxpayers will keep paying (and repaying) the astounding cost for remedial education, and students will continue to contend with their dashed dreams of earning a college degree. While it’s difficult to overstate the importance of academic preparation, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest there’s more to college readiness than academics alone.

Many Indiana college students today are the first in their families to pursue education beyond high school. Often arriving on campus feeling out of place and lacking a clear plan for their education or a future career, students can become discouraged, disillusioned and directionless. Many of these students are also working, commuting to campus and trying to balance their family and job responsibilities while going to school. The result is the vast majority of these students never graduate, and many finish with debt and no degree.

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