Political strategies

SNOW PERCENTAGES: Higher Education Commission discusses declining enrollment trends and strategies for improvement

Just over half of Hoosiers who graduated from high school in 2020 chose to go to college the following year — a figure that’s down significantly from 2015, when about two-thirds graduates enrolled.

These statistics were among those shared by Sean Tierney and José Medina of the Indiana Commission on Higher Education (CHE) during a recent presentation at the Columbus Learning Center, hosted by IUPUC. They discussed enrollment trends across the state and what can be done to increase school completion rates.

Tierney, who leads the commission’s policy, research and data efforts, began by outlining short-term and long-term trends.

In 2020, 53% of Indiana high school graduates went on to college the following year, he said. This is a drop of 12 percentage points from 2015. Nationally, 62.7% of high school graduates attended college in 2020, representing a drop of 6 percentage points.

Interestingly, the number of Indiana graduates increased by almost 9 percentage points over the same period. For Indiana graduate and undergraduate students, resident enrollment has declined over the past five years, but the number of nonresidents has increased.

Tierney added that Indiana’s college attendance rates show “pretty disturbing statistics” when sorted by race, ethnicity and geography. For example, he said students in rural areas tend to have college attendance rates about 5 percentage points lower than the state average.

In terms of race, the commission’s 2022 college readiness report said black students in Indiana have seen the biggest drop in college attendance rates since the pandemic began, dropping by 50 % in 2019 to 43% in 2020. Hispanic and Latino students fell from 49% to 44%.

Parental income is a “strong predictor” of whether a student will go on to college and complete their degree, Tierney said. According to the Readiness Report, less than 40% of young Hoosiers who qualify for a free and reduced lunch go straight to college, while more than 61% of Hoosiers with household income above that threshold go straight to college. .

Additionally, college attendance rates differ significantly by gender, with 61% of female Indiana high school graduates enrolling in college in 2020 compared to just 46% of male graduates. Nationally, the rates are 66% women and 59% men.

“There’s a pretty big gender gap, and in some ways widening,” Tierney said. “Women are more likely to go to university than men. And then when we look at racial distribution, basically, as a state, we really haven’t been able to fix structural racism in the education system. And it gets really useful when we start looking at these college enrollment rates.

Following Tierney’s presentation on the data, Medina, who is the commission’s school and community outreach manager, discussed CHE’s recommendations on how to improve literacy. These included involving different sectors in the effort, continuing targeted outreach to specific groups, increasing financial aid, and improving student engagement through helpful resources.

For example, the commission recommends that all students eligible to participate in the state’s 21st Century Scholars Program be automatically enrolled. The program provides up to 100% tuition at public colleges in the state and partial tuition at private colleges, according to Learn More Indiana.

Students, who qualify based on family income, must enroll in seventh or eighth grade and meet certain requirements to retain their scholarship. These include earning a cumulative high school GPA of 2.5 on a 4.0 scale, earning at least a Core 40 degree, and completing the Scholar Success program (which consists of activities to keep students “on track for college and career success” in school and college).

According to CHE data, while only 53% of high school graduates in the state went on to college in 2020, the percentage was much higher for 21st century scholars, with 81% of those students going to college. university.

However, less than 50% of eligible students apply for the program, Medina said.

The commission also recommends that all students, whether or not they participate in the 21st Century Scholars Program, be encouraged to participate in the Scholar Success Program.

It is also recommended that the state require high school students to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or withdraw, and return Frank O’Bannon Grant amounts to pre-Great Recession levels. The state recently announced its intention to do the latter.

The Indiana State Budget Committee recently considered the request for a 35% increase in the maximum base grant amounts. Under the approved increase, the maximum award is $12,400 for a student attending a private institution and $6,200 for a student at a public institution. The new amounts will come into effect during the year 2023-24.

“This is the largest funding increase in scholarship history, and when combined with the Federal Pell Scholarship, will allow thousands of Hoosier students to see their tuition and fees fully covered by financial assistance,” commission officials said.

The Frank O’Bannon Grant is Indiana’s premier need-based financial aid program and helps approximately 40,000 Hoosiers pay for college each year. Students do not need to apply for the grant, but must have a current FAFSA record to be eligible.

After Tierney and Medina’s presentations, there was a question and answer period. During this period, one participant noted that some of Indiana’s top recruiters, such as Salesforce, Eli Lilly, and Cummins, Inc, “spotlighted politics in the state as being a direct decrease in the development of talent coming into the state”.

Although the individual did not mention any specific political issues, Eli Lilly and Cummins voiced their opposition to the state’s near-total ban on abortion — which is currently unenforced due to an executive order. of the Indiana Supreme Court – and said it would affect their ability to attract and retain employees.

The audience member asked Tierney and Medina what aspects of Indiana’s political system might “drive students either into the classroom and/or as they exit the classroom, out of state “.

Tierney replied that as a government employee he would have to be somewhat careful in his response. He then went on to say that young adults in Indiana have many options as to where they choose to live.

“And we’re trying to figure out how to convince them to stay, and we’re already working at a disadvantage, aren’t we?” he said. “We work with a state for, whatever pros we have, we don’t have mountains, we don’t have beaches — I know, Indiana Dunes, but we don’t have an ocean. We have a few cities, if students are looking for cities, but nothing east coast or west coast or Chicago wide. We don’t have the best weather either. So every time we shoot ourselves in the foot, it costs even more.

Medina added that it is helpful for the state that employers express their concerns as well as their congratulations.

Throughout their presentations, both men also stressed the need for better communication when it comes to informing students about the different post-secondary education options available to them and convincing them to interest in continuing their studies.

“We suspect we’re struggling to really get the message out about the value of college,” Tierney said. “I’m sure you all know, for decades we’ve been talking about rising tuition and fees. And we’ve really struggled, both as a state and as institutions, to really find effective ways to push back against this narrative, whether it’s true or false, that college isn’t worth it. sadness. And we’re starting to see the results of that loss in the messaging battle.

Medina added that when it comes to messaging, the federal government and state governments are “the least trusted people to talk about higher education,” so involving “trusted messengers” in this communication, such as family, friends, community organizations and counsellors.

The commission also underscored the importance of all post-secondary options.

“There’s a misconception because we’re the Higher Education Commission, we only care about bachelor’s degrees (diplomas), Tierney said. “And we’re always fighting against that notion. quality degree you can earn.We tend to focus on credit degrees – bachelor’s degrees, associate’s degrees, and credited degrees — but we’re in favor of anything that can provide you with a more stable and better lifestyle. , from an economic or quality of life point of view.