Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

January 6, 2014

TERESA LUBBERS: Confronting Indiana's college readiness challenge

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

Kokomo Tribune

— 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.

We’re confronting Indiana’s college-readiness challenge with a sense of urgency on multiple fronts to ensure Hoosier students and families have the guidance and support they need to plan, prepare and pay for college. Through the Commission’s Learn More Indiana outreach initiative (LearnMoreIndiana.org), we’re engaging students and families with compelling communications campaigns that drive home the message about what it takes to be college-ready. We’re bringing together community leaders who are committed to increasing college completion through our county College Success Coalitions. And, we’re providing more consistent support than ever before to low-income and other at-risk students who need it the most.

This fall, 21st Century Scholars — students enrolled in the state’s early promise scholarship program for income-eligible Hoosiers — have a new and clear set of required activities they need to complete each year to earn their scholarship and to stay on track for college success. Though only required for 21st Century Scholars, we believe the new Scholar Success Program will benefit Hoosier students as a whole, and we’re encouraging schools and communities to adopt these expectations for all their students. 

Through closer collaboration with our colleges and universities, we’re also doing more to connect students with on-campus programs and services that will help them form a community of support and stay on the path to graduation. And, in partnership with Indiana lawmakers, we are providing clear degree maps for every Indiana college student and creating new financial aid incentives that reward students for completing college on time.

We undoubtedly have a long way to go in addressing Indiana’s college-readiness and completion challenges, but the conditions are set, the need is clear and the commitment is in place to make lasting and meaningful progress for our students and our state.

Teresa Lubbers heads the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.