Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

Opinion

July 15, 2014

Low college attainment puts Indiana at a disadvantage

For many of us, the phrase Big 10 brings to mind the spirited competition that comes with college sports. It may make us think of rivalries on basketball courts and football fields that have endured decades, tied to our pride in an alma mater or family traditions. However, there is a much more serious competition among the Big 10 states that is threatening Indiana's economic vitality and what's at stake is much more serious than the outcome of a game.

According to a recently-released report from the Lumina Foundation, just 34.4 percent of Indiana's 3.4 million adults ages 25-64 have earned college degrees. As a result, Indiana is now 41st, or ninth worst in the U.S., in college attainment and, most alarmingly, the state ranks last among the Big 10 states (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin). This standing in the Big 10 represents a big problem for Indiana, perhaps the greatest challenge we face, in fact.

There are several good reasons to compare Indiana with these states. Just as with NCAA sports, it's where the real competition is. When it comes to jobs and skilled workers, these states represent our greatest rivals. And right now, the score isn't even close. Minnesota, for example, ranks second among U.S. states in terms of college attainment. Illinois is 16th. Even Michigan, a state with well-documented fiscal challenges, is better positioned for a comeback with 37 percent college attainment, ranking 10 spots higher than Indiana.

What's even more troubling is the trend that has led to this position – and what's at stake if it isn't reversed. Indiana's 34.4 percent college attainment level is only an improvement of 1 percent against 2008 data. And we have not moved the needle much at all in the last four decades. More to the point, it's far too inadequate to get Indiana to the 60 percent college attainment level by 2025 identified by the Lumina Foundation as necessary of us to compete in the global economy. At our current pace, in fact, Indiana would only reach 41.1 percent college attainment by 2025.

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