May 10, 2024

Indiana struggles to reverse decline in college enrollment

The Ivy Tech Community College campus in Indianapolis in Spring 2024.  Another 10 percent high school graduates going to college picked a public two-year institution.  - Dylan Peers McCoy / WFYI

The Ivy Tech Community College campus in Indianapolis in Spring 2024. Another 10 percent high school graduates going to college picked a public two-year institution.

Dylan Peers McCoy / WFYI

The number of Indiana high school graduates heading to college is just 53 percent for the third year in a row.

That’s a steep decline from its peak over a decade ago, and the latest sign that the low college-going rate is an intractable problem for the state.

People with college degrees typically earn significantly more than those with high school diplomas. And the state’s economy needs more educated workers. But Indiana has struggled to boost college attainment. The college-going rate declined for five years before stagnating.

Of the high schoolers who graduated in 2022, about 53 percent went directly to college, according to data released by the Commission for Higher Education at a meeting Thursday.
 


Among students going to college, Indiana’s public four-year colleges were the most popular choice. About 27 percent of high school graduates went to one of the state’s four-year universities. Another 10 percent went to a public two-year institution.

Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Chris Lowery has made the state’s low college-going rate a priority for his office. The commission began a research project this year to look at why high school graduates are not going to college and what policy changes could help.

In a recent interview with WFYI, Lowery said that one reason people are skipping college is because they believe it’s unaffordable. But he said that perception is not always accurate and that the state has kept the cost of public higher education lower than many places and offers generous financial aid.

“What we've been trying to do, especially in the last year or so, is provide a lot more in terms of facts around affordability and also outcomes,” Lowery said.

The new data on college going rates does have some bright spots. More than 80 percent of students who participate in Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars, which pays full tuition at public colleges, enrolled directly in college.

One way the state is hoping to boost college-going is by expanding 21st Century Scholars. Historically, that program was only open to students who applied in middle school. But that will change for future graduating classes. A 2023 law requires the state to automatically enroll students who are eligible.

About a decade ago, Indiana leaders said that by 2025, they wanted 60 percent of residents to have a college degree or credential. The state missed that goal. But it has made progress. About 53 percent of Hoosiers now have some form of post-secondary education — including certificates and other short-term credentials, according to a report from the Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation.

Contact WFYI education reporter Dylan Peers McCoy at dmccoy@wfyi.org.

 

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