By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer
The Indiana Commission on Higher Education had a clear message for Howard County Wednesday night: increasing educational attainment here is an urgent priority.
“For many of us, we grew up in a time when determination and hard work gave you a good middle class life,” said Teresa Lubbers, Indiana commissioner for higher education.
People had jobs right out of high school that offered good pensions, health insurance and vacation time. Those same jobs often aren’t available today without some sort of post-secondary training, Lubbers told a group of educators gathered for a meeting Wednesday on college success.
So the state of Indiana has set a goal for 60 percent of Hoosier adults to have some sort of post-secondary degree by 2025.
That includes Howard County, Lubbers said.
Statistics show the county is ahead of the curve in terms of providing children and young adults access to college, but students here don’t always follow through.
According to statistics provided by the Indiana Commission on Higher Education, 89 percent of Howard County students graduate from high school, and 47 percent go on to study at a public college or university, Both of those figures are higher than the state average.
Once those students get to college, though, 35 percent of them need some sort of remediation. Statewide, only 31 percent of college students need remediation.
What’s more, only 27.2 percent of Howard County students graduate with a bachelor’s degree on time. The state’s average is 31.5 percent.
Howard County’s Career Success Coalition is trying to change that.
Lubbers said 32 local businesses and organizations have joined forces to host activities that promote post-secondary success.
The group has hosted 56 different college-related activities since its inception earlier this year.
“We’ve been thrilled with what we’ve seen,” Lubbers said.
But there’s still work to do. Educators voiced their continuing concerns.
Southeastern School Corp. Superintendent John Bevan said kids have no idea how much college costs. That became apparent when he sat on several scholarship committees and read scholarship applications last year, he said.
Lubbers said that’s a problem statewide.
“We need to do a better job of connecting with students, so they don’t wake up all of a sudden in the second semester of their junior year and think they still have time,” Lubbers said. “They don’t.”
She said the commission on higher education has made a concerted effort to reach out to students as young as first and second grade to talk about college and its costs.
Marilyn Skinner, Director of the Center for Early Childhood Education at Indiana University Kokomo, said there needs to be more of a focus on reaching students sooner here.
“The state has got to look at preschool,” she said. “Students come into kindergarten behind. [Some] children come in and don’t even know how to hold a book.”
Kindergarten curriculum becomes more advanced every year, Skinner said. Parents need to know what they can do to prepare their students, she said.
Lubbers said that’s a concern she thinks the state is taking a closer look at.
“If we’re going to close the achievement gap, we have to look at early childhood education,” Lubbers said.
For Ivy Tech Community College Kokomo Region Chancellor Steve Daily, student debt is the real concern right now.
“We’ve got to get control of the debt problem,” he said. “People are abusing the loan system. They borrow money they don’t have to borrow.”
Lubbers said that is certainly a “huge” issue today. She said with rising college costs, families are beginning to wonder if college is even worth it anymore.
College is still worth it, she said.
“You just have to be smart about it,” she said.
Parents should start talking about and planning for college when their kids are in preschool, educators advised.
Lubbers said Indiana and Howard County are on the right track to fix some of those problems. The real changes are going to be made at the local level.
“The hard work to move those numbers will be done at schools and at colleges and universities,” she said.