Indiana higher education report reveals concerning trends

The Indiana Commission for Higher Education released its 2019 College Readiness Reports on April 2, revealing that Hoosier high school graduates are more prepared for post-secondary education than ever before.

That was the good news. The report also identified troubling trends including widening gaps between boys and girls, urban students and rural students and whites and minorities when it comes to pursuing post-secondary education.

The upside is that the report showed that just 12 percent of 2017 high school graduates needed some form of remedial education in college. That number is down from 28 percent five years earlier. And 75 percent of high school graduates who attend a two- or four-year school successfully make it to the second year, the report states.

Of the 2017 high school graduates pursuing post-secondary degrees, 69 percent are enrolled in a four-year degree program, 28 percent in a two-year degree program and 3 percent in other certification programs.

The report also shows more Indiana students are graduating high school with college credit than ever before. Among 2017 graduates, 64 percent had already earned college credit, compared with just 47 percent five years earlier.

It makes sense that students enrolled in college preparatory programs in high school are more likely to pursue post-secondary education, but the report underscores how significant the difference is. Students from the class of 2017 who pursued an honors track in high school accounted for 50 percent of the enrollment in Indiana’s public colleges. They averaged a 3.1 GPA and earned 27.5 credits during their freshmen year compared to a 2.1 GPA and 17.5 credit hours among high school students who pursued the Core 40 track during high school. Students who earned a general diploma in high school and attended college averaged a 1.6 GPA and earned just 9.2 credit hours during their freshman year.

Most troubling in the report were the so-called geographical, gender and racial gaps:

• 64 percent of Hoosiers from urban schools attend college compared to 59 percent from rural areas.

• 69 percent of Indiana girls pursue college compared to 57 percent of boys.,

• And blacks and Hispanics — the fastest-growing demographic segments among Indiana students — are significantly less likely to pursue post-secondary education than their white and Asian peers. And those who do performed far worse on average during their freshmen year in terms of GPA and credit hours earned.

Overall, the report showed that 63 percent of Indiana high school students pursue secondary education, which is below the national average of 67 percent and down 2 percent in two years. This isn’t just about traditional four-year colleges. Increasingly, workforce demands require post-secondary education, including one- and two-year technical certification programs as well as two and four-year associate and bachelor degrees. Future earnings and employability are directly correlated with education and training. Given some of the trends in the Commission for Higher Education report, one has to wonder if the state is on track to meet its future workforce needs.