Teresa Lubbers, commissioner of the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, came to Fort Wayne on Tuesday to plead for employers to get more involved in preparing students for college and careers.
At meetings with members of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership and the Northeast Indiana College and Careers Coalition at Sweetwater Sound, Lubbers urged employers to get on board with The Big Goal Collaborative.
The initiative is trying to raise the educational attainment of Hoosiers with a "high-quality, post-high-school credential" to 60 percent by 2025, when an estimated two-thirds of all jobs will require one, Lubbers said.
Such credentials include a two- or four-year degree or greater, or a meaningful, job-related certificate, she said.
The current rate for northeast Indiana’s workforce is 38 percent, she said.
"We need to make sure that students are academically prepared to go to and succeed in college or get jobs," Lubbers said.
Lubbers touted the 26-year growth of the state’s 21st Century Scholars program for students in grades 7 through 12 and the newer You Can Go Back program that encourages adults to return and finish college as steps in the right direction.
About 750,000 Hoosiers have attended college but have no degree, and the goal is to get 200,000 of them to return by 2020, she said.
Lubbers said the emphasis on post-secondary learning should not be interpreted as a push for everyone to go to a four-year college, but that students should be able to decide on the right post-secondary fit, based on solid career knowledge.
Potential employers can help foster that knowledge, she said, through increased cooperation with schools in developing curriculum based on their needs and through sponsorship of student-oriented activities such as site visits, career fairs, student-mentoring by their employees and internships.
Previously, she noted, many Hoosiers made "a rational decision" not to go beyond high school "because jobs didn’t require it."
At the same time, she said, many employers did not pursue higher-education opportunities for their employees under the assumption that "if we train them, they’ll just leave us."
But that landscape is changing in the 21st century.
"Now we know that if we (in businesses) don’t do that, if we don’t up their skills, then we won’t be able to survive as a company. I think this alignment with employers and higher education is very important," Lubbers said.