Students save when they graduate on time


The Indiana Commission for Higher Education shared good news this week with a report showing an increasing number of Indiana students are graduating from college on time. It’s an important measure: Students who earn a degree in two or four years finish with less of a financial burden — saving hundreds of dollars a month on student loan payments and getting a quicker start on career and earnings.

The student population looks different across the state’s colleges and universities, so on-time completion rates vary widely. But across the board, all public institutions have shown improvement over the past five years. At four-year flagship campuses, the rate is up more than 11 percent, while regional campuses are up more than 12 percent. Ivy Tech Community College’s statewide on-time completion rate is up more than 7 percent.

The improving rates are a key to achieving the state’s goal of 60 percent of its workforce holding a post-secondary degree or credential by 2025. It’s an ambitious goal because Indiana ranks 43rd in the nation for college attainment with only 26 percent of its 6.6 million residents holding a degree.

At the urging of the Commission for Higher Education, college and university officials have ramped up efforts to encourage students to keep on track toward a degree, pushing schools to make it easier and more affordable to earn and transfer credits. Life events can interrupt enrollment, but research shows students are more likely to graduate if they don’t fall behind.

But students and their families also are recognizing the importance of graduating on time to rein in college costs. For the class of 2016, Hoosier graduates of four-year colleges, both public and private, finished with an average debt of $29,562, according to the Institute for College Access & Success. About 59 percent of Indiana students graduating in 2016 finished school with outstanding loans.

State universities are helping students control costs by educating them on borrowing. Indiana University opened its Office of Financial Literacy in 2012 to raise student awareness of the price of borrowing. The university’s efforts included a program that showed students how much they were borrowing and how much and for how long they would be repaying their loans. In the nine months after the program began, federal Stafford Loan disbursements at IU fell by $31 million.

IU’s program became the template for the state’s “truth in lending” law, sponsored by former state Rep. Casey Cox, a Fort Wayne Republican. It requires public colleges and universities to give students information annually about their student loan debt, including an estimate of the total amount of loans, potential total payoff amount, estimated monthly repayment and the percentage of borrowing limit a student has reached.

The information undoubtedly has pushed students to finish school on time. When presented with the numbers in black and white, a student who realizes she is halfway to a degree but has tapped three-quarters of her available loans is likely to reconsider her course load and academic progress.

Indiana’s steadily improving on-time completion rates are an encouraging trend. It’s worth the effort to educate students about the cost of higher education while also reminding them of its value. The average high school graduate earns $35,615, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

And those with a bachelor’s degree? They earn an average of $65,482, making the investment of money and time well worth it — provided it’s not too much time.

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