An increasing number of Indiana students who started college finished their degrees in 2021, according to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
An increasing number of Indiana students who start college are finishing their degrees, but state officials say they still want to see more Hoosiers earning higher education credentials overall.
Preliminary data released Thursday by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education (ICHE) showed the on-time college completion rate for 2021 graduates continued a five-year improvement trend. Extended-time college completion — which includes students finishing studies within six years for any degree type — also showed upward progress.
That’s despite challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, including massive shifts in instructional methods and campus life.
College completion rates improving
Just over 45% of all Hoosier college students graduated on time in 2021, which means students who started college in fall 2017 graduated with a bachelor’s by 2021, or they completed a long-term certificate or associate degree within two years.
Around 44% of all Hoosier college students graduated on time in 2020, and 42% in 2019.
About two-thirds, or 66%, of all students graduate within six years, an improvement of 2.5 percentage points from the previous cohort of students, according to the latest data.
In addition to the yearly rate increases, the data show gains of almost 11 percentage points in on-time graduation since 2016. Extended-time college completion has jumped 12 percentage points in the same time frame.
Some equity gaps closing, but disparities persist
Adult learner completion rates also saw an all-time high, with 42% of adult students earning a credential in six years — up 6.3% compared to the 2020 graduating class.
The on-time completion rate for Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars additionally showed higher graduation rates, according to the latest data.
Over 37% of students in the state’s early college promise program — which provides up to four years of tuition for income-eligible students — completed college on-time in 2021. Just 27% of low-income students who are not part of the 21st Century Scholars program achieved the same.
For the first time in recent history, more than 60% of Hispanic and Latino students graduated within the extended timeframe, according to the ICHE. The rate increased 4.5% from the year before, and by 13.7% compared to five years ago.
But while students across the board are completing college at a higher rate, Black, Hispanic and Latino students are still less likely than their white peers to graduate on time.
Regardless of institution type, on-time completion has never surpassed 25% for Black students. Extended-time completion for Black students has not surpassed 50%. Although specific numbers for the 2021 graduating class have not been published yet, the preliminary ICHE report indicated little improvement compared to 2020 rates for those students.
Getting more Hoosiers educated
Still, the state’s overall education attainment has yet to meet Gov. Eric Holcomb’s goal of having at least 60% of adult Hoosiers with a quality degree or credential beyond high school by 2025. Currently, that number is just over 48%.
That leaves a majority of Hoosier adults without a credential beyond a high school diploma.
In June, the ICHE reported that just 53% of Hoosier graduates furthered their education with certificate training, a two-year program or at a four-year college.
Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Chris Lowery called the state’s lowest college-going rate in recent history “alarming.” State lawmakers and Indiana education officials say more needs to be done to get Hoosiers further educated.
State officials also maintain that people with a bachelor’s degree or higher earn 85% more per year than high school graduates. The longer college takes, however, the more it can cost, and the less likely it is a student will ever graduate, ICHE officials said Thursday.
The commission’s full 2022 College Completion Report is expected later this year. Completion rates for the class of 2022 are not yet available and can be expected in 2023.
The annual report measures how many learners complete their degree or certificate by campus, highlighting trends at each public institution, as well as statewide progress.
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