State and national leaders increasingly are looking to Indiana as an important voice for driving college completion and student success. Last month the U.S. Chamber of Commerce named Indiana among four states to earn an A for higher education policy environment.
Indiana is ripe for reform in higher education. Our state ranks 40th in the nation in postsecondary attainment. The Indiana Commission for Higher Education has adopted an aggressive strategic plan: Reaching Higher, Achieving More. Our goal is to ensure that more students complete college on time and at the lowest possible cost.
Indiana has fared no better than most other states in containing the costs of postsecondary education over the past two decades. Hoosier students borrow an average of $27,000 to finance a college degree, and Indianas student loan default rate has increased by 35 percent over the past three years.
To their credit, Indianas colleges have adopted some measures that lower costs, including decreasing summer tuition, guaranteeing on-time graduation and increasing aid based on student performance. These are important steps, but more must be done.
While direct reductions in tuition and fees are welcome, there are other factors to consider when addressing college affordability. The correlation between cost and time spent by students in a course of study is clear. Time spent in remedial courses, excessive course-taking, and academic credits lost through transfer or poor academic advising all contribute to inflated student costs.
Indiana must attack these issues on multiple fronts. We must continue to pay for what we value through a performance-based funding formula that rewards our colleges for increasing the numbers of students who graduate and do so on time. We must expand innovative education models that enable students to accelerate their progress toward graduation and seamlessly transfer their credits between colleges. And we must provide a transparent means for students and parents to become informed college consumers by calculating the return on their investment in postsecondary study.
The past two decades have witnessed a perfect storm within higher education and the economy. The result has been triple-digit-percent increases in tuition and fees plus runaway increases in student debt. Reversing these trends must be a responsibility shared by our state, our colleges and our students.