Fewer grads enrolling in college
09 May 2021 — Journal Gazette
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Ashley Sloboda

A troubling trend in Indiana has worsened.

After years of steady declines, the percentage of college-bound high school graduates plunged to its lowest point in more than a decade. Of the 2019 graduates, 59% enrolled in education after high school, down from 61% the previous year, according to a recent report by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

The college-going rate has been steadily declining since 2015, when it was 65%, the agency said, "but this is the largest drop year-to-year."

The commission expects the decline will continue in the 2022 Indiana College Readiness Report considering fall 2020 enrollment for two- and four-year public colleges dropped by 13% and 4%, respectively.

Additionally, Free Application for Federal Student Aid filings for the class of 2021 is down 5.6% compared with the same time last year, the commission reported Wednesday. Filing the FAFSA is an important step in the college process and can help students better afford higher education. Forms are due Saturday.

Commissioner Teresa Lubbers described the situation as serious.

Indiana won't reach its goal : that at least 60% of Hoosiers have a quality credential beyond high school by 2025 : and it won't be able to fill workforce pipeline needs without students attending college, Lubbers wrote in the report's introduction.

About 43% of Hoosiers had achieved the credential goal by February 2019.

"We cannot overlook the persistent questioning of the value of higher education as a factor in Indiana's college-going decline," Lubbers said in a statement.

She noted adults with education beyond high school were less likely to be unemployed in the aftermath of the economic upheaval last year.

"Our challenge and opportunity must focus on increasing the higher education value proposition to Hoosiers, while ensuring students are ready and able to access it," Lubbers said.


Allen County mirrors the statewide trend, with 57% of graduates college-bound in 2019 compared with 64% and 66% in the previous two years, according to the commission.

Northwest Allen County Schools led the school districts with a 67% college-going rate in 2019. Southwest Allen County Schools followed at 64%; East Allen County Schools at 52%; and Fort Wayne Community Schools at 45%.

In 2018, the districts' college-going rates ranged from FWCS's 51% to SACS's 79%.

Purdue University Fort Wayne remained the most popular choice among Allen County graduates who enrolled in a state public college, capturing about one-third of students. Statewide, the campus attracted 4%.

Recruiting students from outside the area has become easier since IPFW split into Purdue Fort Wayne and Indiana University Fort Wayne, said Krissy Creager, vice chancellor for enrollment management and the student experience.

It "helps to carry that Purdue name because it allows us to have a larger reach," she said.

Instead of using precious seconds in an elevator pitch to explain what IPFW is, recruiters can focus on why Purdue Fort Wayne is the student's best choice, Creager said.

Allen County graduates also are flocking to Ivy Tech Community College, which attracted 21% of the 2019 college-bound crowd who enrolled in a public state college.

Ivy Tech's recruitment strategies focus on its affordability, transferable credits and flexible course offerings, said Kimberly Waugh, director of K-14 engagement and transition for the Fort Wayne campus.

"Either it be a certification of five classes, or a full associate's degree, we are here to help high school students or adult learners meet the needs of industry and skill-up to secure a (higher) paying position within their current employer," Waugh said by email.


INvestEd reported this year an encouraging finding from its annual survey: 89% of Hoosiers value education beyond high school.

The Indiana-based nonprofit focuses on providing financial aid literacy and transparent education funding options for students.

However, the survey found, 77% of Hoosiers believe the coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn has pushed that education further out of reach.

Elizabeth Bushnell, executive director of Questa Education Foundation, is aware of that statistic and the concerning trend in declining college-going rates and this year's lagging FAFSA filings.

"Financial barriers seem insurmountable to students and families," Bushnell said.

The INvestEd survey found 76% of Hoosiers are concerned about the average $32,000 in student loan debt held by graduates in Indiana, and 69% said they are concerned the pandemic might result in more people taking on student loan debt to pay for college.

It's important as a community to tell students about resources that make college affordable and for the community to invest in those programs, Bushnell said.

Questa, for instance, helps students graduate with less debt through programs including low-interest, forgivable loans.

"We definitely see demand," Bushnell said, adding Questa annually funds about 400 students seeking certificates, associate degrees and bachelor's degrees.

Other challenges students face include learning to navigate the college processes and balancing school, work and life, Waugh said. Ivy Tech's staff and faculty are eager to help students get involved in social activities, tutoring and financial resources.

"These individuals help students navigate the 'college-going' journey and connect each student with an academic adviser that helps create an academic plan and register students for classes," Waugh said.

Other findings

The 2021 College Readiness Report found almost 13% of 2019 high school graduates : a 15-year high : were awarded graduation waivers, which are given to students unable to pass the state's graduation requirements.

In Allen County, waivers were awarded to 12% of FWCS graduates, 9% of EACS graduates, 3% of SACS graduates and 2% of NACS graduates.

A new requirement about passing ISTEP in 10th grade instead of an end-of-course assessment could have contributed to the increase, the commission said, but the increase in waivers is concerning.

Those earning a waiver were less likely to enroll in college, and less likely to succeed in college than students not awarded waivers, the commission said.

"Graduation waivers serve a critical function for students who face certain barriers to completing high school, but it is important that we keep a high graduation standard in place for all Hoosier students," Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner said in a statement.

The commission noted the 21st Century Scholars program provided a bright spot in the college readiness report. Those students' college-going rate improved 2 percentage points to 88%.

Scholars attend college at higher rates than their low-income peers, 35%, and higher-income peers, 64%, according to the report. They are the only group on pace to close the college-going equity gap.

"The 21st Century Scholars program continues to be an example of how aspiration and preparation, coupled with the state's commitment to ensuring that students can afford to go to college, closes access and achievement gaps for low-income students," Lubbers said.


This story is provided free courtesy of The Fort Wayne Newspapers.
"Fewer grads enrolling in college" Journal Gazette 09 May 2021: A1