Across Indiana, colleges are talking to you.
On the interstate, Ivy Tech Community College assures: “Whichever way you’re going, we’re here for you.” Along the Indianapolis streets, Earlham College promises to be “the college that will change your life so you can change the world.” At the airport, Ball State University keeps it simple: “We fly.”
The bottom line? They really, really want you — especially now.
Across the country, new data out this week show,
college enrollments are falling. Undergraduate numbers were down 3 percent in fall 2021 from the year before; since fall of 2019, they’ve fallen 6.6 percent.
In Indiana, one big challenge — even before the pandemic — has been a steady decline
in college-going rates from high school. Back in 2014, 65 percent of the state’s graduates went on to college. In 2019, 59 percent did.
Almost all of that drop can be attributed to men, says Teresa Lubbers, Indiana’s Commissioner for Higher Education. Barely half of Indiana’s male high-school graduates now go to college.
“The value proposition of higher education is very stressed right now,” Lubbers told me last month.
Ask people why they aren’t going, and here’s what you hear, she says:
- First, they’re worried about affordability.
- Second, they don’t see how learning is connected to the work they want to do. And in an uncertain economy, taking a $17-an-hour job looks pretty good right now.
- Third, there’s a lot of “rugged individualism.” People don’t want to be told what to do. They think higher ed is just trying to get their money. And the government seems far removed from their lives.
Indiana is one of the most manufacturing-intensive states in the nation, Lubbers says, and the economy is changing. That means Indiana needs to change, too: “We’re in the process of changing the culture of a state so people have a better understanding that economic mobility depends on education and training beyond high school.”
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