The Strategy Behind Putting Hoosier Students First

When it comes to higher education in Indiana, Hoosier students always come first.

Whether we’re developing a statewide higher education strategy or focusing on specific goals, student outcomes represent our measure of success. At the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, our job is to recognize the changing needs and demographics of Hoosier students and promote strategies that ensure success for all students.

Our efforts begin with a focused strategic plan driven by reliable data and a commitment to build a student-centered, mission-driven and workforce aligned system of higher education.

Building an agenda for student success

In 2008, we launched our first strategic plan Reaching Higher, which signaled a significant shift in focus from college access to college completion. While Indiana’s longtime emphasis on expanding access proved effective at enrolling record numbers of Hoosiers in college, our data indicated that graduation rates remained unacceptably low.

By analyzing the data, we were able to refocus our attention on student success to better align Indiana’s higher education system to improve completion and better meet the needs of the state’s economy.

In 2012, we built upon the foundation laid out in Reaching Higher to develop Reaching Higher, Achieving More. The new plan rallied Hoosiers around the big goal of increasing the proportion of adults with quality education and training beyond high school to 60 percent of the state’s population by 2025. Again, our revisions were fueled by research and sound data. A complementary goal was established in 2013 to close the achievement gap by 2025 and cut it in half by 2018. We have hit our benchmark goal but will need to double our work to reach the ultimate goal.

Our most recent strategic plan Reaching Higher, Delivering Value builds on Indiana’s commitment to establishing one of the best and most student-centered higher education systems in the nation. Specifically, the plan calls for more direct paths for completion, greater focus on equity and alignment with workforce needs. Indiana’s policy agenda has been built on a commitment to use compelling data to increase transparency, inform practice and drive change for the benefit of all Hoosiers.

Developing strategies to reach our goals

 Using our strategic plan as a guide, we work in partnership with institutions and policy makers to create and implement student-friendly initiatives to reach our big goals. Everything we do, from overarching strategy to specific tactics, keep the focus on our students in order to effectively drive change.

Two specific examples include the Commission’s performance funding model and our “15 to Finish” campaign.

Performance Funding

With two-thirds of all new jobs requiring post-high school education, Hoosiers will be left behind unless we dramatically increase educational attainment. A key strategy in addressing this challenge is our nationally recognized performance funding formula, which distributes dollars to colleges based on improvements in student success and completion.

Over the years, we have achieved a balance between metric continuity and the need to adjust our metrics to ensure they are aligned with the state’s higher education goals. We have found that when we pay for what we value, we see better student results, and more Hoosier students are graduating from college than ever.

 15 to Finish

After analyzing statewide completion data, we noticed that only three in ten Hoosiers were completing a bachelor’s degree on time and less than one in ten earned an associate degree on time. Not only does an additional year of college cost students nearly $50,000 in extra tuition and lost wages, it also dramatically decreases the chances that they will graduate at all.

Our data also indicate that college students who complete at least 15 credit hours per semester are more likely to graduate on time, perform better academically and save money on their college degree.

With this in mind, Indiana launched a statewide “15 to Finish” campaign to help Hoosier students and families understand the importance and benefits of completing 15 credit hours per semester. The campaign was a success.

According to recent completion data, on-time college completion rates are improving across all four and two-year public campuses statewide. In fact, nearly half of all Hoosier students who attend a public four-year campus graduate on time—an improvement of 10.9 percentage points over the past five years.

Measuring student success

To measure our progress, the Commission develops a series of consumer-friendly reports each year that spotlight each stage of the postsecondary pipeline.

  • College Readiness Report shows where Indiana high school graduates go to college, whether they’re prepared for college-level coursework and how they’re performing.
  • College Completion Report shows how many Indiana college students graduate, how long it takes them to earn their degrees and where there are gaps in student achievement.
  • Return on Investment (ROI) Report shows how much college costs by campus, the average student debt, and the job prospects and earning potential associated with different degrees.

In addition, we create supplemental reports on subjects such as dual credit, transfer, financial aid and equity. These reports underscore the imperative to keep college costs as low as possible and have made the case for our need-based program, which ranks fourth in the nation and first in the Midwest.

Whether we’re building an agenda or developing strategies to reach specific goals, we measure our success by the success of the students we serve.

Teresa Lubbers was appointed in 2009 to serve as Commissioner for Indiana’s Commission for Higher Education, the coordinating agency charged with ensuring the state’s postsecondary education system is aligned to meet the needs of students and the state. Prior to joining the Commission, Lubbers served in the Indiana State Senate for 17 years, leading on education and economic development issues.