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COMMUNITY VOICES

Solid foundation, aggressive agenda bolster higher education in Indiana

Wednesday, July 17, 2013 - 12:01 am

As I conclude my service as a member and chair of Indiana’s Commission for Higher Education, I am more hopeful than ever that our state has put in place the policies that will lift the educational attainment of Hoosiers.

I also know that there is much work that remains to reach the big goal of 60 percent of our citizens holding post-high school credentials. I ask all Hoosiers to join me in supporting our new governor, the new commission members and the professional staff as they continue this mission.

At the time I was appointed by Gov. Mitch Daniels early in his administration, I would dare say that the importance of degree completion, on-time completion, affordability and productivity were not on the radar of most policy leaders and certainly not on the radar of most Hoosiers. There were no performance metrics tied to state funding of education. There were no degree maps or clear pathways to careers for students. There wasn’t a strong focus on the importance of the community college system; open animosity existed between several of the community college campuses and the regional campuses.

All of this changed with the commission’s development of Reaching Higher, the state’s first strategic plan; followed by Reaching Higher, Achieving More. These strategies received national acclaim:

“The Indiana Commission for Higher Education has taken a comprehensive and strategic view of the higher education needs of the state, and put together an outstanding plan of action. I applaud the Commission’s leadership role in driving Indiana toward a better future.”

— Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO, Lumina Foundation

“Reaching Higher, Achieving More combines common sense with courage and is set to go beyond good intentions to good results. Hoosiers rightly aren’t satisfied with undergraduate degrees that take six years. They have brought the conversation back to ‘on-time’ meaning four years for a baccalaureate degree. They are calling for lower cost per degree, lower student debt loads, and elimination of unnecessary programs. There will be many that will try to derail these reforms, but Hoosiers are known for holding their ground. If they do, Reaching Higher, Achieving More will be a model for the nation.”

— Anne Neal, president, American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA)

“Indiana was already a national leader in efforts to improve college completion. Adopting this strategic plan places Indiana even further ahead in this important work. Indiana should be proud of its commitment to moving this important agenda.”

— Stan Jones, president, Complete College America

“Reaching Higher, Achieving More squarely hits the target in calling for a higher education system that is more student-centered and aligned with Indiana’s future workforce needs. Reaching Higher, Achieving More will move Indiana quickly forward to having the educated citizenry it needs have a successful sustainable economy.”

— Larry A. Isaak, president, Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC)

So what has been accomplished so far?

Today:

We now have a Core Transfer library, TransferIN.net.

We now have a statewide general education core.

We worked with your office and with the legislators this session to enact a number of strategies from Reaching Higher, Achieving More:

1. Single Articulation Pathways

2. Common electronic high school transcript and college application

3. The codifying of IWIS, Indiana’s Workforce Intelligence System

4. Aligning the Frank O’Bannon and 21st Century Scholarships with the completion, efficiency and quality goals in Reaching Higher, Achieving More.

We have changed the conversation from inputs to outcomes, with return on investment reports.

We are rewarding performance, with state funding tied to outcomes.

We have rightly put the focus on a student-centered system of higher education.

We have invented a grass-roots network of College Success Coalitions as Learn More Indiana helps Hoosiers Plan, Prepare and Pay for college completion and career success.

We have taken the mystery out of the true cost of college with a nationally appreciated Cost Calculator.

We have championed our community college system.

We have put on the radar and set an audacious goal to close the achievement gap between Caucasian and minority students.

When you’re living it and doing it, it is easy to think these things are just plain Hoosier sense. But we have often been reminded over the last several years just how remarkable the work in Indiana is.

Last year at this time, our commissioner was one of four national leaders called to testify before the United State House Higher Education and Workforce Training Subcommittee on what states and colleges are doing to curb college costs and to ensure results. We were specifically invited to inform the nation about our performance-based funding and credit-transfer policies.

The 2012 United States Chamber’s report Leaders & Laggards recognized only four states for exceptional education policy, with Indiana in that elite grouping. The March 12, 2012, Inside Higher Ed article “Doubling Down on Degrees” had this to say about Indiana’s educational leadership:

“Four years after first introducing performance-based funding for public colleges in the state, Indiana’s Higher Education Commission is upping the ante.

“Indiana’s public colleges and universities will now be asked to double the number of degrees they award, cut costs, improve on-time graduation rates, use assessments to track learning, and create a common general education curriculum as part of a new strategic plan that keeps an emphasis on performance-based funding.”

And an excerpt from “Higher Education Needs Smarter Spending for Student Success,” Feb. 18, 2012, by Nate Johnson and Martha Snyder:

“Indiana and Tennessee are leaders among states that align performance-based policies for students and institutions. They provide incentives to colleges where high numbers of students graduate, and give students the incentives and support they need to do their part, too. In Indiana, the state government measures graduation rates, the number of graduates, and the ratio of graduates to enrolled students. The Commission for Higher Education recently approved a new set of policies to tie funding to the number of students that reach set benchmarks on the way to graduation.

“Indiana also changed state student aid policies by reforming the state’s 21st Century Scholars Program …”

Certainly none of this would have been possible without the best professional team in the country — and also one of the smallest teams, once again showing Hoosier frugality and productivity. Commissioner Teresa Lubbers is smart, politically savvy with higher education’s key constituents, passionate about reaching higher and very effective as the face of our higher education system locally, statewide and nationally. Our state is lucky to have her leading this issue.

I wish the new commission members a world of success. It is my hope that this historical perspective will enable them to respect the achievements to date, learn quickly, and maintain and multiply the momentum that is so important to the educational and economic success of the state we love.

Marilyn Moran-Townsend is CEO of CVC Communications, Fort Wayne; chair, Indiana Commission for Higher Education 2012-2013; and member of the Commission 2001-2013.