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'All-hands-on-deck effort'

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Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers spoke to about 100 people at the College Success Summit on Tuesday, raising awareness of postsecondary needs and opportunities in Hancock County. (Jim Mayfield / Daily Reporter)
Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers spoke to about 100 people at the College Success Summit on Tuesday, raising awareness of postsecondary needs and opportunities in Hancock County. (Jim Mayfield / Daily Reporter)

GREENFIELD — Rethinking a traditional college education as the prime road to success is necessary if Indiana’s economy is going to thrive, participants in an education summit were told Tuesday.

The focus of  the College Success Summit, which featured Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers, was on identifying new ways to arm today’s graduates for success in an ever-changing work environment.

“We used to think of college as this sort of monolithic institution, and we never really intentionally aligned it with what was needed in the workforce,” Lubbers said in a keynote address that described a failing in higher education in Indiana: There has been a disconnect between the preparation students receive and the skills employers need. But that’s changing.

“Now, we’re planning,” she told the 100 or so government, civic, business and educational leaders who attended the meeting in downtown Greenfield.

And the need for training will be pressing.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be just fewer than 1 million job vacancies by 2018. More than half of those openings will be for those with postsecondary credentials of some kind. Only a third of those openings will be filled by high school graduates, and a small fraction will be available for those who do not finish high school.

Unfortunately, only a third of the state’s college students graduate on time, and only half graduate at all, Lubbers said.

Additionally, state college tuition and fees have outrun Hoosiers’ earnings growth more than 100 to 1 in the past 10 years, according to the commission’s 2011 figures.

As a result, the state is undergoing fundamental changes in the way it prepares students before they get to college; what it teaches them once they get there; and structuring systems to help them complete their studies, Lubbers said.

“It’s an all-hands-on-deck effort,” said Lubbers, who spent 17 years in the Indiana Senate, representing parts of Marion and Hamilton counties, prior to becoming the state’s commissioner for higher education.

Sponsoring the summit at the local level, the Hancock County Career Success Coalition, a network of civic, government, educational and faith-based organizations working to increase post-secondary education access and opportunities for county residents, is raising awareness of the postsecondary educational avenues open to local residents, especially those that are alternatives to a four-year degree.

Participants were bullish on those options.

“Manufacturing is very much alive in Indiana,” said Jenny Lear, marketing and customer service manager for Fortville-based Genesis Plastics Welding. “There is such a shortage of students who are prepared to go into a manufacturing career.”

Carl Boss, of New Palestine, who works as business development director for Garrity Tool Co. in Indianapolis, said today’s advanced manufacturing facilities and practices offer significant opportunities outside a four-year degree.

“There is a fantastic avenue for kids to pursue manufacturing as a career, and it is a career,” Boss said. “Advanced manufacturing is leading the (economic) recovery in the state of Indiana, and the factories of your grandfather are not the factories of today.”

Lubbers and other educational leaders urged students and families to begin considering and preparing their postsecondary plans early to begin evaluating what they want, what they will need and whether those variables meet with reality.

In addition to retooling the post-secondary education landscape to equip today’s students with the advanced skills they need to succeed in the marketplace, the issue of a retiring workforce on the horizon needs to be addressed now, Lubbers said.

In the 1950s and ’60s, Indiana ranked well nationally in terms of per-capita income; however, the state did not move proactively to diversify its economy, Lubbers said.

“Now, we rank 41st in personal per capita income,” she said.

“Shame on us if we let that happen again,” she said.

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