New report shows Indiana college-going rate at lowest point in 10 years

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INDIANAPOLIS — As Indiana prepares for College Goal Sunday, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education says they are seeing fewer and fewer students applying to go to college.

The 2021 Indiana College Readiness Report shows in 2019, only 59% of high school graduates in Indiana went on to some form of higher learning, a drop from 61% in 2018. The commission says this is the largest year-to-year drop they have seen.

“There are reasons behind them, but nonetheless we must deal with the realities, which is we are seeing fewer Hoosiers engaging in higher education,” said Teresa Lubbers, Commissioner for Higher Education for Indiana.

While in the past, a strong economy was identified as a reason fewer Hoosiers are going to college, the report shows that an ongoing attitude that a college degree does not hold value is also a contributing factor.

“Many people see a disconnect between education and their career goals,” Lubbers said. “So we’re trying to make sure that all of our degrees and programs have embedded career relevance that they, what they’re learning is related to what they’re going to do.”

One of the largest areas that the commission is focusing on is trying to attract male students. The report shows the gap between male and female students widened by two percentage points in one year.

Lubbers says they are working on finding messengers to talk to men, as they may not listen to higher education or government representatives.

The report does not only show bad news. The report shows the state’s 21st Century Scholars program was the only group to make a positive gain in college-going rates. The commission says the 21st Century Scholars are closing the achievement gap for every low-income student by race and ethnicity.

The commission says this report will serve as a pre-pandemic baseline as they look to see how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted higher education.

Another element that could factor into the decline in college-going rates is the cost. A recent report from Georgetown University shows the cost of college has soared 169% since 1980.

With the rising cost, Lubbers says it is a risky proposition not to complete the FAFSA.

“Even if you are uncertain about what your career plans are going to be after high school, don’t take a chance with this because you could be leaving significant amounts of money on the table when you decide when you do make that decision,” Lubbers said.

Even if people are not certain they will qualify for need-based aid, there is also merit-based aid and federal aid that is also based on completing the FAFSA.

To help make applying for aid easier, the commission is planning on making a reduction in the number of questions that will need to be answered.

For those who need someone to talk to in order to understand how to apply for aid, the Indiana Student Financial Aid Association is partnering with the commission for College Goal Sunday on November 7. Thirty-eight locations around the state will have financial aid experts available to give free FAFSA filing help to students and families.

The events take place from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. If people are not able to attend, they can also email wwozniak@investedindiana.org and put “CGS” in the subject line to get connected with a volunteer.

A map of locations participating in College Goal Sunday can be located below:

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