Classes are beginning on college campuses across the state, but with continued reforms and unprecedented policies, this year will hardly be status quo. A combination of student demand for more affordable tuition, legislative initiatives and university commitment to providing high quality, cost-effective education is shaking up Indiana’s higher ed scene.

Last Friday, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education (ICHE) adopted new standards for the approval of degree programs at Indiana’s public colleges and universities. Commissioners increased accountability and quality for new programs by requiring institutions to demonstrate how each one meets state need and student demand, how student learning will be measured and the programs’ anticipated costs.

ICHE also worked to fine-tune the state’s performance-based funding method for public universities. During the 2011 session, Indiana moved to a system that provides more funding to schools that meet certain key goals: retaining more students, graduating them on time and committing more dollars to important research. This funding system has been nationally recognized for providing accountability for taxpayer and family dollars. The 2011 model allocated 5 percent of the state’s higher education budget to this performance-based funding, but the CHE hopes to increase that percentage in the next state budget.

Performance funding and other initiatives have earned Indiana such acclaim that state higher education officials were asked to testify before a Congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., on college affordability last month. Indiana was lauded for its efforts to reduce college costs by incentivizing on-time graduation and providing transparent ways for students and parents to calculate the projected return on their higher education investments.  The president of Ivy Tech Community College was also called to discuss how the institution has been able to dramatically increase enrollment while decreasing costs and adding degree value.

Encouragement from the state continues to drive many colleges to take action on affordability. In fact, two Indiana colleges were named “best buys” in the 2013 edition of the “Fiske Guide to Colleges.” Congratulations to Butler University and Indiana University for working to provide great college degrees at an affordable cost. Additionally, just last week the University of Evansville announced a tuition freeze, guaranteeing next year’s freshmen will not see a tuition hike during their four years at school.

As we head into the next legislative session at the Statehouse, Indiana is poised to set the bar even higher for our public colleges and universities. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently awarded Indiana an ‘A’ ranking for higher education policy environment. As one of only five states to receive this designation, it is clear Indiana lawmakers and education experts alike recognize the urgency with which we must address our higher education needs.

Indiana’s public colleges must work with and for Hoosier students, opening up access and providing graduates with degrees that will get them a job in this competitive, global workforce. We must ensure college is not out of reach for the average Hoosier and that achieving a college degree is worth the costs.