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- Indiana’s working parents & adult students need to benefit during this education session, too
Friday, March 27, 2015
By Andrew Bradley
Hoosier adults and working parents are ready to go back to school to get the skills to compete for better jobs and higher wages, but will Indiana provide the opportunities they need to be able to boost their families and the state’s economy?
Despite a self-proclaimed ‘education session’ at the Statehouse aimed at K-12 schools, policymakers must remember that the success of working parents and adult students is also necessary for Indiana to meet its economic and workforce goals. And while there are several promising proposals being discussed in the General Assembly, Indiana still needs true leadership to bring together supportive services with financial aid in a way that removes barriers and allows Hoosier adults to benefit from completing their degrees and credentials.
A new policy brief from the Indiana Institute for Working Families indicates that Indiana’s economy and the prosperity of its families continues to be held back by the low educational attainment of our adults, and it gives recommendations for how Indiana can better align state and federal resources so Indiana can meet its goals and responsibilities. The policy brief provides data that show adults and financially independent students combine for over a third of Indiana’s post-secondary population, but until this past year, those who had to attend part-time have only been eligible for less than 3 percent of state’s financial aid. And while employers are increasingly requiring applicants to have degrees and credentials above the high school level, data from the Working Poor Families Project shows that 30.1 percent of prime working-age adults in Indiana ages 25-54 had only a high school diploma or equivalent in 2013, and another 11 percent don’t even have that, higher percentages than all of our neighbors except Kentucky. And while an additional 22.9 percent have some post-secondary education but no degree to show for it, just 6.8 percent of Indiana’s working-age adults were enrolled in post-secondary education in 2013.
As Indiana employers have told the state time and again, there is a skills gap for educated workers, particularly in middle-skill occupations such as nurses, electricians and operating engineers that require education above a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree. These are the very certifications and degrees that adult students have the best opportunity to complete, particularly those students with family and financial obligations that require them to attend school while working. Meanwhile, demographic projections show that adults who have been in the workforce since 2010 will remain nearly 2/3 of Indiana’s workforce through 2025, meaning that in order to meet the demands of a changing economy, Indiana must concentrate on finding solutions for the adults who are already part of our labor pool.
However, Indiana’s adults are too often kept from going back to school to complete degrees by work and family obligations, and even more frustratingly, by the lack of support and services matching their needs. The Institute has found that almost two-thirds of Indiana’s post-secondary adult students age 25-54 work their way through school, and over 60 percent of these work more than 30 hours per week while taking classes, whether at part-time or full-time status. Another recent study by the Institute for Women's Policy Research finds that while 26 percent of all college students nationwide are raising dependent children, it’s become harder to find child care on campus, especially at 2-year colleges, where only 46 percent now provide any on-location child care. For the more than 4 in 10 student parents who attend community college, this means they can only take a class if they can find child care somewhere else, not exactly a reliable recipe for a degree.
There are a few promising proposals for Hoosier adults wanting to improve their skills, but big gaps still exist. Senate Bill 509 would transform the previous grant for part-time students into the state’s first ‘Adult Learners Grant’ and give the state flexibility to reward students for persistence by giving graduation grants for students studying to go into high-demand occupations. Even so, this grant would still amount to only two percent of the state’s financial aid, compared to the 36 percent of adult and independent students in the state’s post-secondary population. Another promising proposal is in House Bill 1601, which would open the door for better aligning the services of the state’s workforce and family resources agencies when providing services for Hoosiers. This is an exciting development that could foster interagency coordination and pave the way for ‘two generation solutions’ to help parents put themselves on the pathway to economic success while simultaneously putting kids on the path to educational and personal success.
What will still be needed at the highest level of state government is for leadership with the vision to strategically put together resources and services so that adults have the best chance to return and complete the degrees. This will mean discerning how to maximize the use of limited state and federal funds meant for workforce development so that they result in portable, stackable, industry-recognized credentials, not just resume-writing workshops. It will take leadership to make a priority of tearing down barriers to education while providing access to child care and transportation; and also promoting guided pathways for adults and structured part-time programs that include academic maps, critical path courses, and student advising designed to promote completion.
Until that leadership emerges and takes up this cause as its own, we will continue to remind policymakers at the Statehouse that Indiana needs an education session that includes working parents and adults, too.