Featured today on Inside Indiana Business:
Hoosier students must graduate high school ready to succeed
Last week, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education began providing a valuable new tool for Indiana high schools – specific reports that show how many of each school’s graduating class went on to college, where they enrolled, and how many required remedial math or English classes once they made it to campus.
I’m guessing that many, if not most, school districts are in for a rude awakening when they receive these reports. Statewide data show that more than a quarter of all recent Hoosier high school graduates needed at least one remedial class as college freshmen. Two-thirds of all community college students needed remediation. We aren’t preparing our students at the K-12 level to succeed in higher education.
This creates a domino effect that eventually takes a steep toll on our economic competitiveness. It places another burden on our higher education system, forcing these institutions to teach material that should have been mastered in high school. The students who receive remediation start out behind and struggle to catch up – less than ten percent graduate from a four-year college program in six years or achieve a two-year degree within three.
These trends contribute to our generally dismal educational track record. Just a third of Hoosier adults hold at least a two-year degree. Indiana is mired in the middle of the pack in associates degrees awarded per capita, and we’re one of the least-educated states in the nation as measured by four-year college graduates in our adult population.
In today’s economy, failing to complete some education beyond high school is tantamount to surrendering to a life of low wages, high unemployment and missed opportunities. The days when a high school diploma served as a ticket to a good job at the local factory are long gone. Indiana’s fastest-growing industries, like the life sciences and technology fields, demand a highly-skilled workforce. In manufacturing, traditional assembly line jobs have disappeared at a dizzying pace, while new jobs (in areas like electric vehicles and aerospace) require advanced training.
At the macro level, a weakening workforce discourages new business investment in Indiana, as growing companies look to states and regions with strong human capital to locate and expand.
So what are some ways that can better prepare our young people to carry on their education after high school?
Many of our strategic economic initiatives are already working to address this issue. BioCrossroads’ I-STEM initiative provides resources for K-12 teachers to better educate their students in the STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering and math.
Conexus Indiana is working to develop a high school curriculum that will prepare students to take advantage of high-tech careers in advanced manufacturing and logistics, leading them seamlessly into technical training and associate’s degree programs. Conexus is also working with ‘champions’ (teachers and counselors) in 28 area high schools to promote careers in these industries to students, emphasizing technical education and the need for training beyond high school.
TechPoint has focused on alternative school models, sponsoring the New Tech High program at Arsenal Tech through its Foundation. The New Tech program integrates technology and 21st century learning strategies into the state curriculum, and is getting results. Currently, the New Tech students’ passing rate for the Indiana Graduation Qualifying Exam is twice that of any other open-entry program on Arsenal’s Tech’s campus of 2,700 students.
We also have to recognize that the issues that hinder students from graduating from high school ready for college begin long before ninth grade. During the legislative session, CICP was part of an effort to refocus our schools on early reading education, including a policy ending social promotion from 3rd to 4th grade unless students can read at grade level. This is consistent with the Indiana Department of Education and State Board of Education, both of which have made reading education the top priority.
It’s clear that students who have serious problems with reading early on continue to struggle throughout their academic careers – many drop out before graduating from high school, and their chances of completing a college degree are nearly nonexistent. Making sure that these students get the extra attention they need starting in the critical K-3 years is an approach that will eventually lead to graduating classes more prepared to tackle post-secondary coursework. Ultimately, the General Assembly empowered the Indiana Department of Education to enact this critical reform as part of a broader strategy for improving reading achievement.
There’s no ‘silver bullet’ strategy that will make every high school graduate ready for college or post-secondary training on day one. But the data being generated by the Commission for Higher Education show that this is a challenge that demands our attention, part of the ‘big picture’ effort to raise our educational attainment and build a stronger workforce. Being ready to continue one’s education after high school means being ready to succeed in our knowledge-based economy, and to be a valuable contributor to Indiana’s economic success.
Mark Miles is the President & CEO of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership.