In turn, the percentage of Indiana adults between the ages of 25 and 34 with a degree has risen to 38 percent. That’s up from years past, but still below the national rate of almost 41 percent.
“The trends are positive but the speed in which we’re achieving them is not adequate,” said Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers.
Of particular concern to Lubbers are the numbers that show Indiana’s minority populations are lagging behind. Less than 19 percent of Hispanics and just 25 of blacks have a degree, compared to 35 percent of whites. “We need to continue to focus on that,” said Lubbers.
The Commission on Higher Education also has been pushing the state’s universities to reach out to Hoosiers who have some college courses but no degree. Lubbers said there are more than 730,000 Indiana residents who fall in that category.
“At one point, they had the aspiration, but life got in the way,” she said. “We’ve got to get them back.”
The report also shows a significant geographic disparity in college attainment in Indiana. In two of Indiana’s wealthiest suburban counties – Boone and Hamilton – more than 50 percent of working-age adults have college degrees. Meanwhile, it’s less than 20 percent in the state’s most rural and poor counties.
There are myriad of state efforts to accelerate college attainment, including changes in the popular 21st Century Scholars program that’s paying for thousands of low-income students to go to college in Indiana. Those students are now being tracked more closely, and have increased access to mentoring and tutoring services designed to keep them on pace for graduation.
But both Lubbers and Matthews say local communities can also play a critical role in increasing the college-attainment numbers, especially among those who are first in their family to go to college.
Beyond the traditional scholarships that come from community-based groups, those students also often need encouragement and emotional support to stay in school, they said.
“It helps,” Matthews said, “when communities let their young people know: We’re invested in you for the long term.”
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @MaureenHayden.