September 13, 2008

Accessible Education the Issue: Proposal Would Make Early Years Free. Our View: That Would Better Keep Students on Schedule.

In this space on Tuesday, we pooh-poohed the idea of the state higher education commission to motivate state colleges and universities to push more students to graduate in four years.

As was explained, the state has encouraged public schools with financial incentives to increase their enrollment. And they have, with Indiana now ranking 10th in enrollment, with 62 percent of its high school graduates now seeking a higher education.

But instead of paying universities to increase enrollment, the commission proposes to pay universities to graduate more students in the traditional four-year time period.

Of course, there are a lot of reasons why students don't graduate in four years - maturity, lack of a major, and outside responsibilities, including work required to pay for tuition.

These are real-world problems for students and potential students that delay, but do not necessarily prevent, them from eventually acquiring a college degree, whether it takes, five, six or seven years. The state's universities should not be penalized financially for helping their students acquire a degree at a pace suited to their personal lives.

That all said, the commission included another proposal in its strategic plan that speaks to that issue. Gov. Mitch Daniels has addressed the same concern during the past year.

The commission proposed this week that the state provide the first two years of education at community colleges and regional campuses free of charge, at least to students from families earning less than $50,000 a year.

Earlier, Daniels had proposed that the state provide up to $6,000 for tuition for middle-income, state high school graduates - those who do not qualify for low-income scholarships, and who may feel that they do not have the means to pay for it themselves.

Aren't many of these young people the very same students who attend state colleges and universities, but do not finish in four years because they must work and attend classes only part time? That includes those who start out at Ivy Tech and then transfer to one of the four-year schools, while working at the same time.

So, if the state wants to improve the number of students finishing in four years, give them some help, as proposed by the commission and by Daniels.

Daniels sees the $6,000 for tuition as being enough to pay for two years tuition at Ivy Tech Community College, but he would also allow students to apply it toward tuition at a four-year school.

Daniels has suggested in the past privatizing the Hoosier Lottery and using the proceeds for scholarships.

But those decisions - whether to do it and how to pay for it - are up to the Indiana Legislature.

Lawmakers should give it some thought before going back into session in January.

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