INDIANAPOLIS — Amid skepticism over the value of college, Indiana needs to build greater confidence among students seeking degrees and show a return on Hoosiers’ investments, the state’s commissioner of higher education said Monday.
“Higher education must do a better job of expanding its reach and proving its value, so that more of our citizens and communities benefit from its promise,” Teresa Lubbers said during her annual State of Higher Education speech.
Also needed, Lubbers said, is a stronger support system to ensure equitable graduation rates for students of color.
“While some progress has been made toward greater equity between minority students and their peers, we’re currently on track to only close that gap by twothirds by 2025,” she noted.
A major factor, she said, is that fewer minority students return for their second year of college. Lubbers enumerated a variety of factors, including college costs and the psychological impact of trying to “fit in,” that prompt minority college students to drop out.
Among her report’s main points:
• Ninety-nine percent of jobs created since the Great Recession went to workers with at least some college education.
• An associate degree earned in six years instead of two costs students, on average, more than $34,000 extra in tuition and debt. Similarly, a bachelor’s degree earned in six years rather than four could cost an additional $26,000.
• On average, a college graduate’s lifetime earnings outweigh that of a Hoosier with a high school diploma by $1 million or more. Over the course of a lifetime, each class of Indiana public college graduates contributes at least $15 billion in additional spending and tax revenue.
The main theme of Lubbers' presentation was promoting confidence in higher education.
Gallup and Pew polls have found uncertainty about employment readiness, college debt and growing polarization based on demographics and political agendas.
"It's clear that, when only half of Americans have 'some' or 'very little' confidence in higher education, there is a problem," she acknowledged. "It's a risky proposition to dismiss the value of post-secondary education at a time when more jobs require it."
Since 2012, the combined federal and private debt among Indiana University and Purdue University students has decreased by $165 million, she said. Meanwhile, the on-time graduation rate has risen by 9 percent at four-year campuses and 6 percent at two-year schools.
Tuition increases have also been the lowest in nearly three decades, Lubbers pointed out.
But she didn't back away from recent criticism of the value of college.
Speaking in the Statehouse atrium, Lubbers referenced Bryan Caplan, an economist at George Mason University in Virginia, who has decried in his book, "The Case Against Education," the need to hold a college education to obtain a meaningful job.
"While his perspective is provocative and includes some good points, it can't go unnoticed that a graduate of both the University of California and Princeton is using his education as an economist employed by a university -- even while he advocates for educational austerity," Lubbers said, eliciting chuckles from her audience.
Vote of confidence
In a Gallup poll in February, 62 percent of women said they had confidence in higher education; the rate was 49 percent for men.