Teresa Lubbers, Indiana's Education Commissioner, called for state lawmakers to reevaluate their higher education funding choices if they're serious about improving college graduation rates in the state. According to Lubbers, legislators should look for ways to encourage students to perform well in college and graduate on time by creating financial aid incentives that reward higher grades and those who manage to complete their programs in four years.
Lubbers pointed out that graduation rates in the state continue to be too low, and many of those who drop out prior to completing their education are left not only with reduced opportunities for employment but also with crushing student debt.
"It's not an overstatement to say Indiana's future — the kind of state we will be — has more to do with education than anything else," she told about 300 people who attended her speech at the Indiana Government Center.
Her address came as the state's Commission for Higher Education is seeking a 7.5 percent increase in appropriations for the state's total higher education budget for 2013-15. The House Ways and Means Committee heard that proposal earlier Wednesday.
She said that in order to change the status quo, lawmakers will need to find wiser ways to spend their higher education funds.
Lubbers' speech also touched on the recently released report by a government commission that showed that only about 10% of college students in four-year schools actually graduate in four years — and an even smaller percentage graduate on time in community colleges.
Indiana's public universities are under mounting pressure from the commission to increase their graduation rates. A report released last year by the commission calls for the state to increase the number of Indiana residents with a college degree to 60 percent of the state's adult population by 2025. Currently, only about a third of Indiana adults hold at least one degree, ranging from a one-year work force certificate to a master's degree.
Lubbers said that those numbers are unacceptable if Indiana hopes to more firmly establish the foundations for its future economic growth. She said that currently the legislators take no steps to encourage students to take up majors in high-demand fields like science, mathematics and technology.
She added that increasing graduation rates will pay huge dividends. If 60% of Indiana college students go on to graduate, they could bring an addition $1.5 billion into the state economy.
State Rep. Robert Behning, an Indianapolis Republican who chairs the House Education Committee, agreed with Lubbers' call for more state investment in higher education.
"In Indiana we are blessed with a surplus. Hopefully we can invest in higher ed [and] K-12," he said.