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SENATOR DAVID LONGMany laws passed during the 2012 state legislature are slated to take effect July 1. Some of these initiatives hope to encourage job growth, keep taxes low and support military families during the coming years. But of all the new laws passed, those aimed at helping more Hoosier students graduate college may hold the most promise for our state.

According to Help Wanted, a report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, by 2018 55 percent of jobs in Indiana will require post-secondary education. College attainment levels in our state, however, remain relatively stagnant, with only 33 percent of our working population holding an associate's degree or higher.

At this rate, it is unlikely Indiana will graduate enough Hoosier workers prepared to fill the jobs of the future. Rising tuition costs and the prospect of incurring thousands of dollars in student debt have more students opting out of higher education at a time when obtaining a college degree is more important than ever.

Since 2000, tuition at Indiana's public colleges and universities has doubled, far outpacing inflation and income growth.  As a result, the Project on Student Debt reports Indiana's average student debt at more than $27,000 – the eighth highest average among all 50 states.

If Indiana hopes to remain competitive and continue attracting high-skilled, high-tech jobs, we must have the workforce to match. In this globalized economy, we're not only competing for jobs with neighboring states, but countries from all over the world. Serious steps must be taken to curb skyrocketing college costs and get more degrees in the hands of more Hoosiers, or Indiana will get left behind.

One solution to producing more Hoosier graduates is to help those who have attended some college but not yet earned a degree. According to the Georgetown report, in 2010, about 747,000 Indiana adults –22 percent of the adult population – had gone to college but did not have either a two- or four-year degree.

Lawmakers worked to address this concern with House Enrolled Act 1220, an important initiative to fight the phenomenon of "credit creep" – an increase in credits that prolongs graduation. Historically, the normal graduation requirement is 60 credit hours for an associate degree and 120 credit hours for a bachelor's degree. But today, 90 percent of Indiana college programs exceed those amounts.

The new law, which takes effect next month, gives the Indiana Commission for Higher Education the authority to approve or disapprove any change in credit requirements at Indiana's state colleges and universities to prevent "backdoor" tuition hikes that serve as a deterrent to degree completion.
Another state initiative, Senate Enrolled Act 182, requires public colleges and universities to create a system of courses that are automatically transferable among different colleges and diplomas. That means that when life circumstances lead students to drop out of college temporarily or transfer to a different institution, they will have a better chance to pick up where they left off when they go back to school.

While both of these new laws are steps in the right direction, state universities must also do their part to reduce costs and increase accessibility. Indiana State University in Terre Haute recently announced a four-year graduation guarantee for all incoming freshman. Eligible students who find themselves unable to complete their degree within four years will be able to take any remaining courses free of cost.

Look for Purdue University also to lead the way in college affordability in the years to come. With the university's recent decision to name Gov. Mitch Daniels its next president, Purdue is gaining a leader who understands how to contain costs and increase efficiency.

Innovative programs like the graduation guarantee and the new laws passed this year will help get Indiana higher education back on track to provide cost-effective, high-quality college degrees for all Hoosiers.
Let's work together to secure a brighter future for our children and Indiana's workforce.


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