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September 24, 2012

Panel eyes new approach for Indiana high school seniors

Plan emphasizes college credit courses and remediation

INDIANAPOLIS — The push to nearly double the number of Hoosiers with college degrees by 2025 may change the way Indiana high school students spend their senior year.

Under a plan supported by some key education reformers, the last year of high school could be spent earning college credits, training for a vocation, or taking intensive remediation courses to become college- or career-ready.

Such a plan might make it tougher to get a high school diploma, but supporters of the idea say students would graduate better prepared for the training they need to land a good job — and ultimately help boost Indiana’s economy.

“This is an issue that really matters to this state,” said Teresa Lubbers, Indiana’s commissioner for higher education. “It’s critically important that we understand the inextricable link between education and economic development.”

Lubbers made those comments Monday to a legislative study committee tasked with looking at ways to boost the state’s economy by creating a better-trained and better-educated workforce. Indiana has set a goal of increasing the number of Hoosiers with college degrees from the current 33 percent to 60 percent by 2025.

The legislative study committee, chaired by state Sen. Jim Buck, a Republican from Kokomo, may recommend legislation that would require Indiana schools to do more to prepare students to connect college to work.

“We have students who say, I’ve a got a degree, but no job,” Buck said. “They’ve misunderstood that a degree alone is not a silver bullet.”

Lubbers and others who testified said Indiana’s low education-attainment rate is a drag on economic growth because an increasing number of new jobs require some kind of post-secondary education.

They cited some dismal numbers: Indiana ranks 40th in the nation for education attainment; from 2000 to 2010, the per capital personal income of Hoosiers dropped from 33rd to 42nd in the nation; and Indiana’s poverty rate of about 15 percent puts the state in the bottom third of states nationally.

The only way for the state to dig its way out is by increasing the education levels of its citizens and matching that education to the needs of employers, said Jeff Terp, an Ivy Tech Community College vice president.

Terp presented the committee with a series of recommendations from the Policy Choices Education and Workforce Development Commission — a work group of policy experts from around the state that was put together by Indiana University’s Public Policy Institute.

On that list were recommendations specifically targeting high school students. Among the commission’s recommendations:

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