This program is made possible through the financial support of Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations.
Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education, Chris Lowery delivers his first State of Higher Education address: Delivered April 4th, 2023 from the Indiana Statehouse.
Good afternoon, everybody.
And welcome and thank you for joining us for the 2023 State of Higher Education address.
My name is Jud Fisher and it's my honor to serve as the chair of the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.
Today's remarks will focus on the Commission's ambitious goals to increase access to post-secondary education and improve economic prosperity and individual social mobility.
We are delighted that you could join us.
I want to thank the staff at the Indiana State House for being our gracious host this afternoon and Ivy Tech Community College, Muncie, for providing refreshments for the reception immediately following this address.
I hope to see you there in the past year since we came together.
A lot has changed in the higher education landscape.
Institutions continue to adjust how they communicate the value of education to Hoosiers.
While we have made great progress toward our goals.
There is still work to be done.
We know that more than ever, higher education remains a powerful force to improve lives.
Now I have the great pleasure of introducing Indiana's Commissioner for Higher Education, Chris Lowry.
Chris has a genuine passion for education and public service He is a proven leader and brings a unique blend of experience and skills that enable him to do great work in elevating the educational achievement of Hoosiers.
Prior to joining the Commission in the spring of 2022, he served as senior vice president of Workforce Careers in Adult Strategy at Ivy Tech Community College, where he led the college's workforce and career initiatives, an organization before working in higher ed.
He led public policy and engagement for Hillenbrand, Inc. and served as an aide to the former Indiana Governor Robert D. Orr, as well as then-Senator Dan Quayle.
Chris's strategic vision and thought leadership have guided the commission's work as we seek to increase enrollment, continue to improve completion and retain college graduates.
It is my honor to introduce Indiana's Commissioner for Higher Education, Chris Lowry.
Thank you Jud for your kind introduction and more importantly, for your committed leadership to the Commission for Higher Education.
As chairman, you have welcomed me and provided me with valuable insight and counsel during my first year as commissioner.
Within Jud's work as CEO of Ball Brothers Foundation, He places an emphasis on funding, education and workforce development initiatives as ways to improve the quality of life.
He recognizes and often reminds all of us that higher education levels provide greater opportunity and the possibility of personal prosperity and economic mobility.
Like Jud, I know that education beyond high school opens doors to additional career options, greater levels of wealth, higher wages, lower unemployment rates.
Just to name a few.
It is with that vision in mind that I am pleased to welcome you on behalf of the Commission to this state of higher education address, my first.
Welcome leaders from government, education, business, philanthropy and not for profit organizations.
Welcome mentors, mentees, friends and family.
Jeralyn and Jordan, thank you for being here.
I love you both.
Since the commission's creation by state statute in 1971.
It has been led by visionaries, civic, government, education and workforce leaders.
Several of our commission members are with us today as they stand.
Please join me in thanking them for their valuable service to our state.
Please stand You know, I could not even begin to thank the staff of the Commission.
They are smart, dedicated, hardworking, mission driven professionals who want to help change the world, or at least our Hoosier corner of it.
Please join me in recognizing our staff to when asked by this staff and others about my management and leadership style even a year ago or so.
You know, I told them and I tell others that indeed I set very high expectations.
And almost always I believe individuals are more capable and talented than they themselves believe.
Members of our team have been witness to this over the past year, and they have not disappointed.
You know, the hard truth is we have our work cut out for us.
Not enough students are choosing to enroll in college just over half.
53% of Indiana's high school graduates in our most recent numbers, decided to pursue education beyond a high school diploma.
Know, while the pandemic exacerbated the decline, the trend has been happening for some time.
In the previous five years.
The total decline was 12 percentage points and 15 percentage points in the past decade.
You know, some have said to me there are no emergencies in higher education.
I beg to differ.
The overall college going rate decline impacted every student demographic, but some student groups suffered more greatly than others during the pandemic and over the past decade, and gaps remain and have widened.
You know, the college going rate for students from low income households who are not part of the 21st Century Scholars Program is 30%.
When we multiply that by the on-time completion rate of 27%, that population of students or prospective students have roughly an 8% likelihood of graduating from high school and then college on time.
For black students the likelihood is 10%.
And for Hispanic and Latino students it's 17%.
This is unacceptable.
And in my view it is an emergency.
Another important population, Hoosier adults, are also lagging in educational attainment.
There are nearly 2 million working age adults with only a high school diploma.
Without tapping into this population's potential and encouraging individuals to pursue higher education, Indiana will not be able to meet its future workforce needs, like the going rate for youth.
There has been a similar decline in adults seeking a post-secondary training or education credential.
In fact, it's been 13 percentage points in the past five years, almost identical to the decline in the going rate for youth.
Just as importantly as it is to ensure that we are getting enough students to enter talent the talent pipeline by enrolling in college I want to emphasize that we cannot lose focus on completions.
We must applaud the progress that has been made in moving the needle of student completion.
In fact, very encouragingly, over the past five years, On-Time completion has increased by 11 percentage points and nearly two out of three students complete within six years now.
That's good news.
Students completing college will always be a priority of the Commission for Higher Education.
It is imperative for the financial well-being of students to complete the education that they start.
I am pleased with the progress that has been made, but I am not satisfied, as many of you are aware.
Indiana set an audacious goal over a decade ago to have at least 60% of Hoosiers with a quality credential beyond high school by 2025.
In 2009, when Indiana began tracking this educational attainment we were at 33% today.
With recently updated data, we are at 54% with most of the growth having come two thirds of it from awarding credentials like certificates, technical certificates and industry certifications which by the way we did not count back in 2009.
But when you break out the 54%, approximately 41% is comprised of two year and four year degrees and higher.
Nationally, the number is 46%.
Indiana has lost ground comparatively in attainment, when we only account for associate degrees and higher in 2009, our state's ranking was 39th.
Today it is 43rd.
We can do better Now is the time to intentionally move to improve the attainment of associate degrees, bachelor degrees and above.
While staying focused on the sub associate degree credentials, this is not an either or Hoosiers have the talent and the pipeline of employers needs them.
And of course, once completing a credential, we hope that a fulfilling career will be right here in Indiana.
But talent retention is also a challenge for us.
So let's face up to it.
Indiana is 14th best in the nation in attracting people to our colleges and universities.
I think that's wonderful.
However, we are 40th at retaining college students once they complete.
This shows that our colleges are a good value that they are bringing people into our state who want to be here and that the market is speaking.
But we have to be more intentional about getting college students graduates in front of Hoosier employers and getting them to stay here.
Let's be clear related to all of these things.
What gets measured gets done.
The Commission has revised our longstanding outcomes based performance funding formula.
Just this year, to incentivize those things about which I just spoke, including enrollment, completions and graduate retention.
And to date, our university presidents have been very supportive and strong in their public support of these goals.
I believe we must view the challenges facing higher education through the lens of a possible list.
Maybe some of you are familiar with the term.
The term comes from one of my favorite books "Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World" by Hans Rosling.
It's one of my favorites in his book, Rosling wrote.
"I am a very serious possibilist.
That's something I made up.
It means someone who neither hopes without reason, nor fears without reason, someone who constantly resist the overdramatic worldview."
"As a possibilist, I see all this progress and it fills me with conviction and hope that further progress is possible.
This is not optimistic.
It is having a clear and reasonable idea about how things are."
I could not agree more with Hans Rosling.
The challenges facing higher education are understood.
So what can we do about them?
I am certain we must lean on and expand.
Proven policies, programs and partnerships and innovate where possible.
And you know what great progress has been made over the last several months?
For example, after approaching Governor Holcomb and legislative leaders just this past fall about the possibility of restoring cuts that were made in 2009 during the Great Recession to the Frank O'Bannon grant, the state budget committee endorsed that idea and provided an increase to account for inflation.
Folks, that was a 35% increase that will serve more Hoosier students and at higher levels In addition, just in recent days, we have seen the passage of legislation to make standard the completion of fast food for all high school students.
Some said this was impossible.
Our friends in the legislature and I disagreed further.
We have seen significant support in the House and Senate for our prospective approach to the outcomes based funding formula, not taking our eyes off of college completions.
But as I said earlier, also emphasizing the critical areas of enrollment and graduate retention Our efforts to set in motion automatic enrollment for the 21st century scholarship eligible students has seen success in both chambers of the General Assembly and we are quite hopeful today about that legislation.
You know, I cannot think of a better example of a program that is a beacon of hope for Indiana's college going rate than the 21st century scholarship since its creation over 32 years ago.
The scholarship has been extremely successful nationally, recognize as one of the best, if not the best promise program in our nation, and the outcomes speak for themselves.
81% of scholars enrolled in college in our most recent year compared to the statewide average of 53% and 30% for their low income peers who didn't get signed up across all races and ethnicities, scholars are more likely to go to and finish college than their low income peers.
And over a lifetime, the extra income scholars earn is nearly ten times the original cost of the program.
Over 50,000 over 50,000 Hoosiers have completed a degree through the 21st century scholarship the power of the 21st century scholarship is clear, but enrollment has remained a challenge.
Less than half 48% of the eligible students, most recently were able to get enrolled with the support of our governor and members and leaders of the Indiana House and Senate.
I believe we will be able to start automatically enrolling this year's seventh and eighth graders enrolling all students who are eligible will clear a barrier to many Hoosiers have and enable everyone.
Those of us in this room and outside of here to shift our resources toward ensuring the success of those students.
While in high school, while in college, and as they begin their career journey.
You know, we're really fortunate today.
We have someone special with us, Morgan Torres.
Morgan is one of those students who benefited from the 21st century scholarship and is a testament to that program.
She has devoted her life to service in all forms, from community to country.
At the age of 17, Morgan joined the military after graduating from high school in Monticello.
She entered advanced individual training in the Army Reserve.
During that time, Morgan enrolled at Purdue University.
Once at Purdue, Morgan continued to serve the veteran community and spent two years as the first female president of this Purdue student.
She graduated in 2020 with her bachelor's degree.
And currently Morgan is still an active duty member of the U.S. Army Reserve.
She remained at Purdue as the assistant director of the Veterans Success Center.
Earlier this year, Morgan was appointed by Governor Holcomb to serve on the Indiana Veterans Task Force.
If you were fortunate enough to join us yesterday at the H. Kent Weldon conference you would remember her stating that the Student Support Center's Kat Campus staff providing mentorship and a military friendly campus made her time in education successful.
And propelled her toward her future.
She has now, and she described how impactful the 21st Century Scholars Program was for her life and her journey.
Please stand so that we might recognize you for your accomplishments and your service to our state and country.
It is heartwarming for me to know that our team at the Commission and I have extraordinary partners in this work since assuming this role about 12 months ago, I have found nothing but collegial, supportive and thoughtful partners in Governor Holcomb and in leaders and members of the Indiana Senate and House.
I am grateful to each of you for the grace you have shown me and for your partnership.
My commitment to you has been to be transparent, to be candid, to listen, to set high expectations and to partner every place possible.
I came to realize a long time ago that I would never be the smartest person in the room.
It is with this in mind that I realize good ideas come from a variety of individuals and places, leaders and members of the General Assembly and administration who have pushed our team and me each day.
And if you don't mind, please rise for recognition.
I see some of you.
If I have to point you out, I will very similarly.
The Presidents, government representatives and other leaders of our seven public colleges and universities have demonstrated tirelessly their collaboration.
Thank you Presidents Chiang, Curtis, Ellspermann, Johnson, Mearns, Rochon and Whitten.
I am grateful to all of you for your partnership and service.
You know the value of higher education here in Indiana is downright good.
When adjusted for inflation, tuition and fees at our public institutions have actually gone down in the past decade.
Okay, most Hoosiers don't know this.
Indiana is a national leader In addition, our state financial aid programs are among the most generous in the nation, with nearly $400 million dedicated.
We are first in the Midwest and fifth in the nation in need based financial aid.
Beginning today, we will abandon Hoosier Humility on this topic and make sure that every Hoosier, each person in this room knows and well beyond understands what a great value for higher education we have in Indiana.
Those of us gathered here today know that it's relevant.
We know that it is worth it.
It is accessible in Indiana, and we will keep pushing education and beyond high education, beyond high school, whether it is a certificate a two year or a four year degree can be transformed national.
It is the cornerstone of economic vitality, individual social mobility and civil society for Hoosier employers, educational attainment is the solution to developing a strong, future oriented talent pipeline and remaining competitive in our global environment?
You know, on a personal level, Higher education changed the trajectory of my own family.
Like many other Hoosier families and probably many of you gathered here today, both sides of our family generally came north from Appalachia, from poverty for better opportunities.
The trajectory of my own family began to change about 100 years ago, two generations before me, when one out of my four grandparents graduated from high school in the next generation, each child graduated from high school, but only one.
My father, Jerry, completed training and education and beyond a high school diploma through an apprenticeship with General Motors.
Our family became the beneficiaries solidly part of the middle class.
My mother, Janet, was unable to pursue her post-secondary education dreams.
She was a valedictorian of a small rural high school here in Indiana.
Her family of poverty could neither figure it out nor afford to send her to college.
Folks, she would have been the ideal 21st century scholar One generation later, I was the first in our family to go to college where Jeralyn and I met and where we both earned our bachelor's degrees.
Later, as working adults, we both completed graduate work.
Our children, Jared, who's listening in right now from Chicago and Jordan, completed their undergraduate work at IU Jordan went on to immediately earn her master's degree, and Jared's an MBA candidate at the University of Chicago.
Our children continue to enjoy what they have known all their lives an upper middle income life full of social and economic opportunities and a long way from the poverty that my grandparents and their parents knew.
My expectation, my hopes, my prayers are that our two grandchildren Madeline and Eloise will also be the beneficiaries of education.
I expect that they will live lives that we might not even be able to imagine today.
For our family and millions of others, higher education was and is the way up and out of poverty.
In a matter of just a couple of generations.
Education beyond high school can be transformative.
The facts speak for themselves.
Wages and net worth increase at each educational level.
Americans who hold a bachelor's degree earn nearly $33,000 more per year than their high school diploma holding contemporaries.
That's over 80% more We also know that education beyond high school, beyond a high school experience brings additional advantages with job stability, access to benefits lower unemployment and higher labor participation.
Beyond those economic factors, we know there are other considerations, social factor considerations, just a few being a lesser dependency on supplemental assistance program.
Lower infant mortality rates.
Higher life expectancy.
I'll give you these two numbers, and I hope you think about them after today.
12 and 2, twelve years and two times.
Those are the differences in life expectancy and infant mortality between a household with someone having less than a high school diploma and someone having a bachelor's degree in higher.
Twelve and two.
You know folks, we simply cannot argue with the data.
Greater levels of education lead to better outcomes for individuals, for employers, for communities and for our state.
The issues facing higher education in Indiana may appear challenging.
But education cannot.
And is not taking on these challenges alone.
I believe with my being that deep and long term improvements will require collaborative and concerted work by multiple sectors of society.
For truly transformational change, we have seen such support over the past few months, as I referenced.
And progress is being made.
And today we also came forward with our Pentagon partnership.
The Commission's partnership, Pentagon is comprised of thought leaders from five key sectors of our society, including business, government, nonprofits, education and philanthropy.
And this distinguished group met, as I reference, for the very first time today.
The leaders of those sectors, if they don't mind rising, if they are here include President Ron Rashawn from the University of Southern Indiana.
Dan Peterson from the Cook Group, Claire City and Green from the Richard in Fairbanks Foundation.
And Marleen Dotson from the Indiana Latino Institute.
The goal of the partnership Pentagon is to better understand and proposed solutions around Indiana's challenges and opportunities related to higher education.
The partnership is working to create a culture in Indiana where Hoosiers individually and together do these things one place great value on education, specifically education beyond a high school diploma.
To to recognize and embrace the fact that higher education is fundamental for individuals to be locally and globally competitive.
To reverse the declines in and improve in measurable areas such as the college going rate completions and graduate retention.
Fourth, commit to continuously improving the degree to which students are prepared for post-secondary education, the workforce, and more broadly, civil society.
And five for us to challenge the belief.
Some might say a culture that casts doubt on the value of education and training beyond high school as a pathway to prosperity and to lift up the virtues of education predicated on the facts that offer clear evidence of return on investment and economic and social mobility related with the creation of the Associate Commissioner of Adult Position.
Earlier on, pardon me late last year, the Commission developed an intentional focus to support special populations, including veterans individuals with disabilities and the justice involved.
Earlier today, the Commission earlier this year, the Commission launched and met earlier today the Veterans Education Pathways Task Force.
This task force has come together and has a goal of increasing by 5000 the number of veterans and military affiliated individuals pursuing a certificate, associate degree or bachelors at an Indiana college or university by the year 2025 Folks, I'll tell you that led by one of Indiana's truly remarkable leaders, our very own commission, vice chair Major General Erika Steuterman, and our adult strategy team, the task force is identifying ways to support and scale promising practices that improve post-secondary access and success for veterans.
General Steuterman and members of the Veterans Education Pathways Task Force are with us.
Would you please stand so we can recognize you we have much to be proud of in Indiana.
So let's build on it.
Let's build on the record and success this state has as an economic and business leader.
Our state ranks first in the nation in manufacturing output and infrastructure, and as one of the best states in which to start a business.
We are in the top ten in terms of regulatory environment, tax structure, per capita indebtedness, and other similar measures.
Today, let's set a vision for our state around post-high school training and education.
I believe we should aspire to be a leader in education and training beyond high school.
I believe Indiana can be a top ten in human capital development.
My own experiences not only in higher education, but in decades working in industry inform me that people and their skills, talents and abilities are the keys to any enterprise.
So let's challenge each other, starting now that we will accept nothing less than Indiana being in the top ten.
Specifically in seven measurable areas.
Let's lead Indiana to be a top ten in terms of post-high school training and education, college going rates for youth and adults across all demographics.
By leveraging such incredible resources as the Frank O'Bannon Scholarship, the 21st century scholars program at the Indiana College Core fast for completions, the workforce ready grants our low tuition and fees and our continuous focus on quality.
Second, post-secondary attainment for veterans, individuals with disabilities, and those who are justice involved.
Third, utilization of credit for prior learning to honor the work, training and education already achieved by adult learners.
Four, the rate at which Hoosiers successfully complete their chosen areas of study.
Once someone has graduated from one of our post-secondary training or education programs.
In measurable distinction in economic and social mobility and prosperity outcomes.
As the recognized state for growing or starting a business based upon the strength of human capital.
As I enter my second year as Commissioner for Higher Education, our team I would share with you is committed to leading the change on what I have called the Hope Agenda.
Hope represents an acronym Hoosiers, Hoosier Opportunities and Possibilities through Education.
The Long Term Goal with this agenda, long term goals of this agenda are borne out of the current challenges and opportunities facing higher education in Indiana.
The Hope Agenda will guide the Commission's work throughout the coming years.
The overarching goal is to ensure all Hoosiers like my family have the opportunity to access hope.
Higher education provides by staying focused on the key pillars of the Commission's Hope agenda.
Enrollment, completions and graduate retention.
All Hoosiers will have the opportunity to access the hope.
Higher education provides to individuals and to employers.
And to our communities.
They will be stronger.
In closing today, I would offer an observation from a book.
Another of my favorites "The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels" by Jon Meacham.
In documenting the historic challenges and opportunities of the American story, Meacham lays forth evidence that it has always been hope that has set us apart as a nation.
From President Lincoln to Eleanor Roosevelt to Martin Luther King Jr and countless other leaders over the American ages, it has been hope that has been constant.
Meacham notes The opposite of fear is hope defined as the expectation of good fortune, not only for ourselves.
But for the group to which we belong.
Hope breeds optimism and feelings of well-being.
Hope is about growth.
Hope looks forward hope points ahead.
Working for a common good.
Hope pulls others closer.
Hope unifies It's going to take a robust and intentional statewide effort to reverse some of the present trends we see nationwide, including in Indiana.
But I do not fear for the sake of our state.
In fact, I am hopeful because the evidence tells me to be so.
Thank you for being here today.
For your service to our fellow Hoosiers and for joining me in the Hope Agenda.
This program is made possible through the financial support of Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations.