Editorial: In-depth study needed to know why students opt out of college


Indianapolis Business Journal

We’re heartened to see the Indiana Commission for Higher Education undertake research into the factors that affect whether high school graduates move on to college, an issue of increasing concern in a state that ranks 31st in the nation for the so-called “college-going rate.”

The commission said Monday that it is using a $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment to hire Reston, Virginia-based Heart+Mind Strategies to talk to high school students, young adults, adult students, parents, teachers, counselors, employers, higher education officials and others about the barriers to college enrollment and other factors that determine whether someone pursues post-secondary education.

It’s a good strategy. Too often, well-intentioned policymakers become concerned about a problem (we agree the decline is a big problem) and jump to a conclusion based on factors that might not be relevant and develop programs that don’t offer real solutions.

Sometimes that’s because it’s easy to impose our own experiences on others. But many of us—including most elected and appointed officials—are far removed from such decisions. Previous generations made choices about college based on circumstances very different from today’s. And students have so many more choices for higher education and training now than they did even 10 or 15 years ago.

Getting more students to go to college can’t be as easy as simply educating them about their options. If it were, the college-going rate would be higher by now.

And while there’s no doubt that the cost of higher education and the debt many students face is a factor for would-be students, we suspect the problem is far more complicated. It’s likely rooted in changes in attitudes about work and education and money in general.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle reports that Heart+Mind Strategies will conduct one-on-one, in-depth interviews as well as focus groups and a survey to gather data. The Commission for Higher Education then plans to use the research findings to complement and inform the development of its strategic objectives and initiatives around policy, communications, 2025 legislative priorities and resource allocation, the Capital Chronicle writes.

We are eager to see the results. Indiana—and the entire country—must be thoughtful and strategic in its efforts to bolster education and training. That might not mean more programs or more scholarships or any of the things that immediately spring to mind when thinking about this problem.

Instead, moving more students toward college and training might mean a serious rethinking of the entire higher education system. And Indiana’s elected officials and education leaders must be prepared to act if that’s the case.

Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Chris Lowery said in the news release announcing the study that “education and training beyond high school is the cornerstone to social and economic mobility and prosperity of all Hoosiers.”

We agree. But we need to find ways to help students want that future. We can’t force it on them.