More Hoosiers than ever before recognize that a college credential is their passport to opportunity and prosperity. Indiana must rise to the challenge by establishing one of the best and most student-centered higher education systems in the country.
– Reaching Higher, Achieving More
Indiana taxpayers investment in higher education warrants an active role in the direction of the states public colleges and universities. But the guiding principle of a newly adopted strategic plan gives proper weight to the importance of structuring a system around student needs. As state support for Indianas institutions of higher learning shrinks, students must have more say in how they are served.
The Indiana Commission for Higher Educations Reaching Higher, Achieving More blueprint is a worthy update of its 2008 strategic plan. It reinforces the need to address weak performance, noting Indianas 42nd-place ranking among the states for degree attainment.
The plan sets ambitious goals of increasing the percentage of Hoosiers with a four-year or two-year degree from 33.2 percent to 60 percent by 2025.
No one wins with an empty promise of college access without completion, according to Marilyn Moran-Townsend, a Fort Wayne business owner and vice chairman of the commission.
Policymakers must take care, however, to ensure the plans goal of a workforce-aligned higher education system doesnt evolve into a workforce-driven system.
While its important to ensure students have necessary job skills, an overemphasis on training for specialized fields is misguided. In the interest of cost-cutting, it is shortsighted to eliminate requirements for courses that encourage students to connect what they are learning to other fields and to examine multiple perspectives. The message from employers isnt that they need more engineers or welders but that they need engineers or welders who can think critically.
In The Global Achievement Gap, Harvard Universitys Tony Wagner argues that students need three basic skills to thrive in a knowledge-based economy: the ability to do critical thinking and problem-solving; the ability to communicate effectively; and the ability to collaborate. Its not a new concept – a panel of Indiana corporate leaders headed by then-Lincoln National Corp. Chairman Ian Rolland prepared an employers perspective for an Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute study in 2000 identifying thinking, communication and leadership skills as those most lacking in the states workforce.
Those arent the science, technology, engineering and math skills that are too often held up as a burning need, which is why some U.S. corporations are increasingly looking for liberal arts majors to balance out their workforces.
Indiana must take care not to allow concerns for cost and completion rates to leave students with diplomas or certificates worthy of a job but without civic skills or a foundation for lifetime learning.
To do so betrays the primary goal of a student-centered system.