The pandemic has dropped the percentage of Indiana high school graduates pursuing college or other postsecondary education by six percentage points, to 53%, in 2020, the state Commission on Higher Education said. .
The decline also marked an 18% drop from 2015, the commission said in its college readiness report released Thursday.
“Indiana’s steep one-year decline in college attendance is alarming, and we need to treat it as such. We know that individual lives and the state economy depend on and thrive on an educated society,” said Chris Lowery, who became Indiana’s commissioner of higher education in April.
The report shows that the previously gradual decline in the percentage of students going directly from high school to some form of college – from less than one-year certificates to four-year degrees – has accelerated in 2020, likely due to the impact of the pandemic. Over five years, the total decline was 12 percentage points.
The decline in college enrollment for 2020 from the previous school year means about 4,000 fewer high school graduates went to college than the previous year, according to the report. The decline was absorbed almost entirely by the state’s public colleges, as nearly the same number of Indiana high school graduates went to private or out-of-state schools as the previous year.
In 2015, 65% of Indiana high school graduates went on to college or other post-secondary education.
Lowery said the state “must look beyond traditional approaches to education for youth and adults.”
“This requires more intentional partnerships with our higher education institutions and employers, as well as strengthened policies and programs aligned with student success,” he said.
The report recommended automatically enrolling all eligible students into the 21st Century Scholars program. Currently, less than half of eligible students enroll in the program, despite its success in ensuring students have access and are prepared for college.
The report also recommended increasing funding for the Frank O’Bannon Grant, which helps more than 30,000 Hoosiers each year afford a college education. Grant funding was significantly reduced during the Great Recession of 2007-2009. The report called for bringing subsidy levels back to inflation-adjusted levels before the Great Recession of 2008-09, which would amount to a 35% increase.