Wednesday, December 5, 2018



Since at least 2008, the Indiana Institute for Working Families has been talking about how higher education and workforce policies and programs are not meeting the needs of our working adult populations that either lack the skills to be successful in jobs that pay a self-sufficient wage, or need retraining to fit into more lucrative and in-demand career paths. Since our 2010 report, Indiana’s Forgotten Middle Skill Jobs, we have been sounding the alarm pretty ardently that working age adults will make up the bulk of the workforce for the foreseeable future and, as such, should be a key focus of workforce development policies to help us meet increasing employer demand for a skilled workforce.



In 2013, we updated the report, including the workforce age demographic data, showing that 65% of the 2025 workforce WERE ALREADY working-age adults in 2010, long past the traditional K12-to-College pipeline. With the support of the Indiana Skills2Compete Coalition, we were able to help broaden state level workforce development, adult basic education, and higher education policy conversations to include thinking about how to serve this adult workforce. And since then? Indiana has made quite a bit of progress in improving access to training for working adults:
  • The state has opened up EARN Indiana, our state work-study program to part-time adult students. 
  • It has created WorkIN- a model patterned after the nationally recognized best practice “I-BEST” model - that joins contextualized adult basic education with a short term credential and supportive services and has served 28,000 Hoosiers. 
  • It re-imagined the “part-time student grant” into an Adult Student Grant to better use the resource to meet the needs of adult students of higher education. 
  • Most recently, Governor Holcomb and the legislature modified and expanded the Adult Student Grant to create Workforce Ready Grants, a key component of the NextLevel Jobs Program. This program is opening up access to many Hoosiers who need or want to upskill or reskill for Indiana’s in-demand jobs.
As we listen to the conversations around us about higher education and the workforce and as we read through both the recommendations of the Governors Workforce Cabinet, and the handful of workforce development bills that are offered nearly each year, we observe that much of the focus seems to be on those students still in the midst of the K-12 pipeline. The training needs of adults seem like an afterthought.  And yet, as we look at key indicators of adult educational attainment, we see that despite our gains, there is still so much more to be done.  Without question, ensuring that our young people get hooked into the right career path is a great long term strategy to meet workforce demand; however, it should not supplant a sense of urgency around making a big investment in upskilling Hoosier adults NOW.

Here are some of the indicators that tell us we must keep sounding this alarm:

  • Nearly 41% of “working-age” Hoosiers have only a high school diploma or less.[1] 
  • Of the 10.4% of this group with less than a high school diploma, more than 110,000 have less than a 9th grade education. 
  • Programs like Indiana’s adult basic education program, WorkIN, the Goodwill Excel Center, and a host of community-based adult literacy programs are doing the heavy lifting of trying to upskill more than 350,000 working age adults without a high school diploma or equivalency. 
  • Young adults need access to adult basic education as well. In fact, 15% of 18-24 year olds also do not have a high school diploma or equivalency, although some of these may be 18 year olds who have not yet graduated. [2]




Understanding the category “Some College, No Degree” proves challenging for those of us wanting a clearer picture of our state’s educational attainment landscape. This category includes both individuals who took a few classes and dropped out and individuals with one or more short-term credentials.  According to a 2017 report by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, about 10,000 Hoosiers received middle skill credentials in 2015. Of those, some already had an associate’s or bachelor’s degree and many went on to complete an associate or bachelors; 29% had only a certificate.

Hoosiers Currently Attending Post-Secondary 

Just as no single data source has exactly the information we need to paint a complete picture of post-secondary completion, the same is also true when trying to sort out school enrollment data from the American Community Survey (ACS). However, using the ACS, we can get a rough idea of how many of adults are actively seeking skills (although the data includes graduate studies).  We also aren’t sure if this number under reports those seeking middle-skill credentials.



We know that not all of the 177,949 adults 25 and over attending higher education are the same adults that have only a high school education or less, but if they were that would mean that only 9% of those who could benefit from upskilling were actively enrolled in a post-secondary program.  Given the attainment gap we are facing and how far we still are from the BIG GOAL of having 60% of Hoosiers with a credential by 2025[3], not enough Hoosier adults are currently enrolled in post-secondary education.

Labor Force Participation

Skills level can affect the strength of someone’s attachment to the labor force.  High labor force participation is a big priority for our state. As Indiana reaches near-full employment, those who have dropped out of the labor force are the most likely to face barriers to reentry.  In fact, nearly 450,000 of the Hoosiers who are not in the labor force have no more than a high school diploma or equivalency. That number accounts for 58% of all those not in the labor force in 2017. 

These are just a few of the factors  that should lead policy makers to the conclusion that a big, bold investment in the upskilling of adults should be our TOP priority as we continue to make adjustments to the workforce and higher education systems in Indiana. 

Stay tuned for discussion of one strategy that has already been recommended by the Governor’s new Workforce Cabinet and our thoughts about how to best maximize a Combined State WIOA Plan…



[1] We focused on those adults from 25-64 as those adults make up the bulk of the adult workforce and the segment most likely to stay in the workforce for some time. Typically, the educational attainment of adults 25 and over is cited, this population includes many retirees that are out of the workforce, we wanted to see what the stat looked like taking the populations 65 and over out.  We did not find much difference form that 25 and over number, for that larger cohort, 44% have nothing more than a high school diploma or equivalent.
[2] 2017 American Community Survey, US Census Bureau, 1-year estimates
[3] Adopted in the 2012 CHE Strategic Plan: https://www.in.gov/che/files/2012_RHAM_8_23_12.pdf 

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