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The future is now for higher ed in Indiana, Lubbers says

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Teresa Lubbers, Indiana commissioner for Higher Education, confers with associate commissioner Jason Bearce over a brief lunch Wednesday afternoon at the DePauw Union Building before meeting with members of the Putnam County College Success Coalition. Her visit to Greencastle was part of a series of eight Community Conversations on College Success sessions.
Less than 24 hours after Hoosiers voted to oust the sitting Indiana superintendent of public instruction in Tuesday's general election, the current Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education visited Putnam County.

Teresa S. Lubbers explained that her mission -- part of an agenda for higher education in Indiana that she calls "Reaching Higher, Achieving More" -- is to show Hoosiers why educational attainment is important.

Losing Tony Bennett as superintendent of public instruction Tuesday after his defeat at the hands of Democrat Glenda Ritz will have little to no effect on Lubbers' plans for a higher-education system concerned with three goals: College completion, degree production and educational attainment.

The change at the top of the state's public education department won't directly affect that, Lubbers stressed.

"No matter who is in that office, it's important we work with them toward preparing students for college at the earliest possible age," she told the Banner Graphic.

"Lines are blurred more than ever between K-12 and higher education," Lubbers added, "as we get the message out that the K-12 linkage is more important than it used to be."

In other words, this is not your father's education system any more.

"Your children are not going to work in the same economy you did," she pointed out.

Viewed from the perspective of educational attainment, Indiana "is ripe for reform," Lubbers said.

The Hoosier State ranks 40th in higher educational attainment with only a third of all working-age adults having completed education beyond high school. The state figure is 30.2 percent, while it is worse in Putnam County with just 24.2 percent of adults age 25 and up going on to college.

One factor working against that in rural Indiana, Lubbers reasoned, is "a sense in some places that if children got an education, they were going to leave home and not come back."

One irony is that with a multitude of higher education options -- 31 colleges or universities across the state -- Indiana is actually "an importer of higher education," Lubbers noted.

"And if you were born here, you have an opportunity to stay home and get a good job," she added.

The commissioner said readiness is an issue as almost a third (31 percent) of all recent Hoosier high school graduates enrolling in Indiana public colleges required remediation in English, mathematics or both. In Putnam County that figure soars to 41 percent.

Completion is also a problem, Lubbers noted, as less than a third of Indiana's four-year college students graduate on time (25 percent in Putnam County), and just over half graduate after six years.

Only four percent of Indiana's two-year college students graduate on time (4.5 percent locally) and only 12 percent do so in three years.

On a positive note, she said, experts are seeing increasing college aspirations and a rise in the rate of students choosing to go on to college.

"More Hoosiers than ever recognize that a college credential is needed to ensure opportunity and prosperity," Lubbers said. "Nearly all students say they plan to go to college."

Figures show now that two-thirds of all high school grads actually do. Indiana's postsecondary enrollment rate has moved in a positive direction, Lubbers said, to 67 percent recently.

The importance of that, she notes, is that future prospects for under-educated individuals are poor, both in Indiana and nationally.

"The level of education is dividing the haves from the have-nots like never before," she added.

Lubbers, who served from 1992-2009 as a Republican member of the Indiana Senate from the 30th District, said it is an important time to talk about creating a "college-going culture" in Indiana.

And whether it's remedial education or accelerated learning, she said, educators need to redesign and redefine how high school looks and works.

"It's going to happen," she said. "It's got happen.

"It's a change that's happening, and whether other people like it or not is irrelevant."

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