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The Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis.

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INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s higher education exists in a state of change.

"The only thing that is certain is change," Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers said in her annual State of Higher Education address Tuesday afternoon. "That saying is unequivocally true about higher education as we enter a new decade that will be marked by dramatic demographic, economic and technological changes."

In her eighth address Tuesday at the Indiana Statehouse, Lubbers outlined priorities set in the state commission's fourth strategic plan entitled “Reaching Higher in a State of Change.”

The strategic plan, published Tuesday, establishes a “blueprint for change,” Lubbers said.

Teresa Lubbers

Teresa Lubbers

Among its goals, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education hopes to increase Hoosiers’ median household income to at least meet levels established in other Midwestern states.

The commission also plans to implement a new, annual report card to keep score of its progress in the areas of completion, equity and talent.

Lubbers said higher education must become more agile to meet an increasing number of students seeking “educational upgrades throughout life” as the economy changes.

She said 11,000 Hoosier students are already “skilling up” or changing careers with the help of the state’s Workforce Ready Grant certificate program, offering tuition-free credentials for working-age students.

The commissioner also addressed the importance of harnessing talent and increasing opportunity through an emphasis on work-based learning throughout all postsecondary programs incorporating, for example, internships and research opportunities.

However, equity in access and retention in higher education still remains a challenge, as evidenced by the commission's 2019 Indiana College Equity Report, which shows Hoosier learners are growing increasingly more diverse, but also more economically challenged as compared to a decade ago.

“Life’s circumstances or obstacles should not dictate the opportunity to succeed,” Lubbers said. “That’s what we mean by equity in ‘Reaching Higher in a State of Change.’ All learners deserve access to higher education opportunities and the support needed to ensure success.”

Lubbers said developing community relationships is critical in the commission’s mission to reach populations traditionally underrepresented in higher education, pointing to the recent creation of the Padres Estrellas, or Star Parents, program.

The commissioner’s address also comes as Indiana celebrates the 30th anniversary of its 21st Century Scholars program offering free in-state tuition to income-eligible Hoosiers.

Scholars and alumni met with Indiana legislators Tuesday, dubbed 21st Century Scholars Day, to share the merits of the program.

21st Century Scholars who meet high school requirements attend college at an 86% rate, more than 20% higher than the state’s overall college-going rate, Lubbers said in her address.

The commissioner also outlined legislative priorities this year, including advocacy for early college credit programs at the high school level and a push to require all high school seniors to file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, something a third of all high school seniors fail to do each year.

Lubbers rounded out her speech with a call to action, impressing that the state’s willingness to invest in higher education will help determine Indiana’s “readiness and prosperity for decades to come.”

“Indiana and higher education are at a crossroads,” Lubber said, referencing Indiana’s "Crossroads of America" state motto. "Let’s make it more than a motto. Let’s commit to the kind of innovation that attacks the persistent challenges and new realities in higher education in demonstrably effective and creative ways."

More information on the Commission for Higher Education and its 2020 strategic plan is available online at in.gov/che.

This article originally ran on nwitimes.com.

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