Turning the Tables on Higher Ed Grades

The grades are in — for Indiana’s public colleges and universities. The "teacher" in this case is the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for a Competitive Workforce. Its Leaders & Laggards report evaluates states in 11 categories.

Derek Redelman, Indiana Chamber vice president of education and workforce policy, says there are few surprises in the report. The "A" grade for overall policy environment, he adds, is a "nice affirmation that the U.S. Chamber likes what we’re doing with education policy in Indiana." The other "A" comes in the overall category of innovation in online learning.

The third overall category was innovation in openness to providers. Indiana received a "C." The other eight grades were divided between four areas for both four-year and two-year institutions. Those marks were:

  • Student access and success: C (four-year) and D (two-year)
  • Efficiency and cost effectiveness: D and B, respectively
  • Meeting labor market demand: B and C, respectively
  • Transparency and accountability: C and C

Check out the overall report and the Indiana analysis.

Chamber Teams on Plan Calling for Workforce Solutions

Community colleges are not lacking in attention. Indiana has a rapidly growing two-year system in Ivy Tech, which has surged the last three-plus years under the leadership of longtime Indiana automotive industry veteran Tom Snyder. President Obama has highlighted the need for additional community college graduates and certifications, including today’s White House Summit on Community Colleges.

While Snyder and an Ivy Tech student are among the attendees, the Indiana Chamber is also contributing to that effort (along with many other initiatives in higher education and workforce development). The Chamber’s Derek Redelman is one of more than 30 leaders from business, education and philanthropy that joined Business Champions, Inc. in submitting an action plan to today’s summit.

The plan outlines specific and concrete action steps employers, corporate philanthropy and community college trustees can take to build partnerships that prepare Americans for high-value jobs, expand opportunities for degrees and support entrepreneurs.

If current trends continue, our workforce will be less educated in 2020 than it is today. Among older adults – those between the ages of 55 and 64 – the United States ranks first with the highest percentage of postsecondary degree holders of all developed countries. However, among young adults aged 24 to 35, the U.S. ranks 12th.

Many of the recommendations for action stem from seven White House meetings Business Champions, Inc. facilitated earlier this year for the Workforce and Education Subcommittee of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board.

“It’s time to move from analyzing America’s skilled workforce problems to implementing solutions.” said Mary Gershwin, president of Business Champions, Inc. “Our workforce development problems can be solved, but business-as-usual will not work.  Leaders from community colleges, the business community and corporate philanthropy must become much more deliberate about working in partnership to build skills, degrees and entrepreneurial capacity. This brief provides a much-needed road map to results.”

Business Champions, Inc. is a national non-profit organization committed to building the skills of our workforce by mobilizing the influence of business leaders to stimulate new thinking, strengthen political will and reform systems so that more Americans earn valuable degrees and credentials after high school.

Read the action plan. Learn more about Business Champions, Inc.

Analyzing the WGU Benefits

Gov. Daniels announced the creation of WGU (Western Governors University) Indiana last month to increase higher ed options in the state and hopefully drive more students to completion. An Inside Higher Ed article (read it here) earlier this week featured the Indiana effort and the potential of similar arrangements in other locales.

Indiana Chamber education expert Derek Redelman commented on that story, to provide more information and to further explain the benefits for Hoosiers. Again, the full story is above for those who need the background; the majority of Derek’s post is featured below and enhances the understanding.

The formation of WGU Indiana, along with Gov. Daniels’ strong public endorsement, offers a terrific opportunity for Indiana learners – for all the reasons that the story portrays. But there are more components to this development than is even noted in the story: First, the price structure is for time rather than credit hours or semesters. $3,000 will buy the student as many courses as he/she can complete in the six-month time period. So there’s a direct incentive – and a reward – for working hard.

Second, start times are flexible – with new groups starting every month of the year. So there’s no more waiting around for a new semester to begin. Once that adult learner takes the initiative to pursue his/her options, he/she can get started almost immediately – while the motivation is still high. That should lead to fewer lost opportunities. Third, completion/advancement is based on competency demonstration and is flexible to the individual learner’s pace. So for those students who need a rerfresher rather than a semester-long course, or for those who are able/willing to work faster than the traditional college pace, there is opportunity (and incentive) to do so.

While none of this is completely new, it is unique – as best that I am aware – as the default approach for any other institution operating in Indiana.

I do hope that the approaches offered by WGU will catch hold in other Indiana institutions. Yes, there are other online learning opportunities offered by nearly all – maybe every single one – of our public institutions. But how many of those are offered with the incentives/components noted in the story? I am aware of none. As for course articulation agreements that will be helpful to students, my observations indicate that we remain far, far away from achieving the level of convenience necessary.

I recall in the 1990s sitting through three years of monthly meetings – lasting 4+ hours per meeting – as our state institutions struggled to meet a legislative mandate for just 10 entry-level, for-credit courses to be tranferrable across all public institutions. Yes, the ’90s are "ancient history" at this point. And yes, Indiana is now well beyond that initial 10-course mandate. But the process for expanding on those articulation agreements remains incredibly arduous and the results of current agreements remain confusing to students. Indeed, there are courses taught at one branch of our intitutions that do not even transfer to other branches of the same institution. As yet another development resulting from the creation of WGU Indiana, it is my understanding that every single course taught at our community college system will be transferrable to WGU – and they did that without a years-long, committee laden, course-by-course, campus-by-campus process.

I remain a biased advocate for Indiana’s entire higher education system, and I completely agree with those who suggest that there are terrific opportunities here. But even the best can get better. And the addition of WGU Indiana adds one more institution to that portfolio of great options.  

Welcome to Higher Ed 101 Plus!

The story is an old one, repeated by many people. Years ago when most states were developing comprehensive community college systems, Indiana and Purdue universities utilized their considerable clout to steer the Hoosier state toward the direction of regional campuses.

The IU entities in Richmond, Kokomo, New Albany and elsewhere undoubtedly brought increased educational opportunities to those areas. The same with Purdue’s outreaches in Westville, Hammond and beyond. Meanwhile, Ivy Tech State College fulfilled its vocational training role.

Flash forward to this decade, a changing economy with different workforce needs and a still ongoing transformation to Ivy Tech Community College. But as the two-year campuses evolved, they found themselves in competition with the regional entities. Similar programs. Similar degrees.

As Nasser Paydar, Indiana University East chancellor, says in our current BizVoice: "We used to have an associate degree in nursing. Ivy Tech has an associate degree in nursing. What this did was confuse the students in the first place. Why would two state institutions within walking distance have the same degree program, accredited by the same agency?

Good question. It’s not that way in Richmond anymore. Missions have been differentiated and employer needs met more effectively in Columbus. Those efforts are highlighted in an in-depth BizVoice article. And it’s promising to see new regional initiatives announced by both Indiana and Purdue earlier this month.

Indiana has outstanding colleges and universities. The goal of all is to have an equally outstanding system that fully serves all students. Chamber education expert Derek Redelman discussed the importance in this two-minute video previewing the BizVoice examination.

As the higher education discussion continues, we’re proud to have the presidents of some of Indiana’s leading public institutions offer their insights this week. We’ll have a couple of guest blogs each day (sign up under Feeds in the upper right corner to receive e-mail updates of new postings) and encourage you to read, learn and comment. Thanks for helping to Build a Better Indiana.

Lubbers to Talk Education With Chamber Members

Who has been among the most influential lawmakers on K-12 education issues over the past 17 years? Who will be guiding the state’s crucial higher education efforts? The answer to both is Teresa Lubbers, former state senator and current Commissioner of Higher Education.

Lubbers will address education issues at all levels in the August 21 Policy Issue Conference Call with Indiana Chamber members. The free hourlong event (9:30-10:30 EDT) will feature commentary from Lubbers and Chamber education expert Derek Redelman, along with your questions.

Longtime chair of the Senate Education Committee, Lubbers has been at the forefront of various education initiatives since first being elected in 1992. Her legislative duty closed with the end of the special session, which featured major K-12 successes as part of the budget bill.

Lubbers, the 1998 Chamber Government Leader of the Year, assumed the Commission for Higher Education role after longtime leader Stan Jones departed for a new position in Washington. Working with both public and independent colleges and universities, the Commission coordinates planning and budgeting for higher education in the state. Its Reaching Higher blueprint (read a 2008 BizVoice story here) is focused on new and revised initiatives.

Chamber members, register today for the August 21 call.

At Least They’re Not Messing with the Days on Task

Education funding is always a contentious issue at the Statehouse, but the battle is rising to a new level this time around (as we have heard over and over and over). Past disagreements largely centered on the level of spending increases. With fewer dollars available, it’s a case of where are they going to go — to students or districts.

The budget is filled with education measures beyond the funding fight. One issue thankfully not on the table, at least for now, is minimizing the 180-day school year. Chamber education expert Derek Redelman reported it this way following the end of the regular session.

In recent months, we have heard from a new president, from a new secretary of education, from a film comparing Carmel students to those in India and China (see here) and from multiple other sources that American students spent far too little time in school. So it was a bit shocking to see at least six different bills filed this year that would have allowed Indiana’s school year to be shortened.

The Chamber fought these bills vigourously and most never even got a hearing. The one bill that did get a hearing was talked about by House Education Chairman Greg Porter (D-Indianapolis), who acknowledged that a reduced school year would be most harmful to the low-income students he represents.

Things all changed when Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett announced mid-session that the Indiana Department of Education would enforce current law and would no longer allow schools to count parent-teacher conferences and professional development days as student instructional time. He also announced much less flexibility in the waiver of inclement weather days. It was a decision backed by 20 years of Indiana law and one the Indiana Chamber applauded loudly, but it was also widely criticized by House Democrats, who vowed to block it through legislation. Though Rep. Porter offered the legislation intended to accomplish that goal, it ultimately failed.

The Budget and Education: What You Need to Know

During Monday’s Statehouse debate on the budget, Sen. Connie Sipes (D-New Albany) made an impassioned plea that "money should follow the programs." The former educator added that the "money following the students sounds really good," but it doesn’t work.

Chamber education expert Derek Redelman tackled that issue (funding on a district vs. student perspective) and much more in a recent comprehensive overview of K-12 as it relates to the budget. Read here for a much clearer understanding of these key topics.

Committee Easily Breaks the 3-hour Budget Barrier

The Senate has a plan. Not everyone may be in agreement, but at least there is a plan. And the Appropriations Committee fulfilled its part of the mission this afternoon by passing a budget bill (expectedly much more similar to the governor’s proposal than the legislation that passed the House on Thursday) in just over two hours.

Sure, the amendment and full bill were approved on 8-4 party-line votes and the real differences have yet to be heard. While most on both sides applauded the work of the committee in preparing the budget bill, Sen. Earline Rogers (D-Gary) did offer that "it’s not as bad as it could have been."

Limited testimony came from a wide variety of sources (including the Chamber’s Bill Waltz and Derek Redelman), most of whom have worn out a path to the Statehouse for similar sessions the past six months. Redelman, by the way, was questioned by Sen. Lindel Hume (D-Princeton) about the role of the Chamber and why the organization is so interested in education and charter schools. Redelman eloquently answered (no need for further details), Hume lauded the Chamber for its overall work and life went on. An interesting and strange sidebar it was.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long (R-Fort Wayne) outlined a plan for second reading amendments to the budget Monday (session begins at 2:30 p.m.; Republicans in caucus at noon and Democrats at 1:30) and third reading passage on Tuesday, leaving one week for conference committee negotiations. Long also introduced a bill that puts a contingency plan in place in case an agreement is not reached by June 30. He explained that the process needed to be initiated today to maintain the rules for bill passage and not force legislators into session (when not needed) and costing the taxpayers more money.

Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson (D-Bloomington) expressed concern that the language gives the state budget director too much power, considers the movement of this bill as "admitting defeat" and called Long’s reasoning for needing to introduce the bill today as a "straw man" argument. Her concerns will likely appear in amendment form on Monday.

The day ended with the full Senate accepting the committee reports on the budget bill and contingency legislation. The drama resumes on Monday. 

Unemployment ‘Fix’ Still Needs Fixed

The fundamental debate in trying to pass a new state budget is whether education funding should be for districts or students. Unfortunately, it’s not a new debate. Chamber education expert Derek Redelman can — and will — go in-depth on that topic, one that has been around throughout his 20-plus years in Indiana education policy.

Also unfortunate is that lawmakers are not taking advantage of the opportunity to right their biggest wrong of the regular session — the unemployment insurance tax increase that employers are telling us will simply force more layoffs. You can calculate for yourself how the largest business tax increase in state history will impact your organization and why it doesn’t solve the shortfall that is approaching $1 billion in loans from Washington.

It’s not big businesses vs. small businesses. It’s not employers vs. employees. It’s bad public policy — one that will require a true solution sooner rather than later.

Bennett to Superintendents: It’s Time for Full 180 Day School Year in Indiana

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett sent a memo to Indiana’s public school superintendents today outlining the need for a full 180 day school year. He states his case as follows:

I believe strongly that schools must do everything in their power to ensure students receive the full 180 days of education as prescribed by state law. Please be advised that beginning in the 2009-2010 school year, it will no longer be the practice of the Department of Education to adopt emergency policies allowing schools to apply for waivers of the financial penalty for canceled instructional days.

As President Obama said last week in unveiling his education agenda, "the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom."

We expect schools to find ways to ensure the 180 day standard is met, despite cancellation of school days due to severe weather or other emergencies. A full instructional day is defined in law as five hours of instruction at the elementary level and six hours of instruction at the secondary level. Lunch and recess are not counted as instructional time…

The Department of Education stands ready to assist school corporations in planning their calendars and seeking creative solutions to guarantee students receive the 180 days of classroom instruction prescribed in state statute.

Our own Derek Redelman lauded the decision in an Indy Star article:

Derek Redelman, vice president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, applauded Bennett’s decision, saying it was a step closer to ensuring Indiana children are in class long enough to compete in a global economy.

The state originally required 180 days of class as a compromise, with the understanding that it would work toward a much longer school year, he said.

"We are seeing that our competitors around the world are getting kids into school longer," Redelman said. "I think it’s pretty clear that you can cover more material if you’re in school more."