October 19, 2023

Indiana’s college going rate unchanged a year after hitting lowest in a generation

A new state report found about 53 percent of Indiana high schoolers who graduated in 2021 went straight to college. - Unsplash

A new state report found about 53 percent of Indiana high schoolers who graduated in 2021 went straight to college.

Unsplash

Indiana’s decade-long decline in college enrollment is flat for now. A state report found about 53 percent of high schoolers who graduated in 2021 went straight to college — nearly the same rate as the previous year when it was called the sharpest decline in at least a generation.

The latest data, released by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education Wednesday, still points toward an unstable economic future for the state and the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Business leaders and lawmakers continue to push for ways students can obtain degrees and credentials to meet the state’s economic needs. 

But Michael Hicks, director of Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State, said if more graduates don't go to college, the state’s economy is under threat.

“And so the result is we're just not seeing much growth in businesses that need college graduates here in Indiana, they're going elsewhere, where they're available,” Hicks said. “And I really think that points to a longer run of malaise that's likely to settle upon the economy as we just are unable to supply the types of jobs that modern employers require.”

Lawmakers have been working on easing the pathway and affordability of college. Those efforts include legislation to auto-enroll eligible students in the 21st Century Scholars program, which provides low-income students with free tuition at state colleges and universities. But it could take years for those changes to take hold and led to increased college enrollment.

Already, graduates in the 21st Century Scholars are more likely to attend college than their peers, according to the report. Eight-two percent of program participantes enrolled in college in 2021, compared to 59 percent of high-income students, and 30 of percent low-income students.

While the college-going rate is unchanged, the number of students enrolling increased by 2 percent, compared to the fall 2022 school year making 2023 the first year enrollment in Indiana has increased in the past 13 years, according to the report.

“The flattening of the college-going rate, coupled with 2023 enrollment data, is encouraging,” Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Chris Lowery said in a statement. “The Commission remains laser-focused on closing persistent gaps.”

According to the new state data, roughly 43 percent of Hispanic or Latino high school graduates enrolled in college in 2021, followed by 45 percent of Black students compared to 55 percent of White students.

Additionally, men continue to go to college at a lower rate than women with 46 percent of men enrolling in college compared to 60 percent of women.

Contact WFYI Marion County education reporter Sydney Dauphinais at sdauphinais@wfyi.org.

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