While Indiana has been making progress in increasing educational attainment beyond high school, the state still lags behind the national average, according to a new report from the Lumina Foundation.

Indiana’s college enrollment and attainment rates have been an ongoing conversation among advocates and policymakers, especially since the state hit its lowest college-going rate in a generation in 2020.

About 53.3% of Indiana residents ages 25 to 64 earned a college degree, credential or certification as of 2022, compared to 54.3% nationally, the Lumina report shows. Indiana’s goal is to reach 60% by 2025.

Key steps to achieving that goal include boosting enrollment and closing the gap between the educational attainment of Black and Hispanic residents and their white peers, according to Lumina’s report. It found that in Indiana, the percentage of Black people with at least a two-year degree was 11 percentage points lower than white Hoosiers, and the number of Hispanic residents was 16.1 percentage points lower for Hispanic residents of Indiana.

“People of color have been denied opportunity for a very long time” — from housing and generational wealth to educational resources, Courtney Brown, Lumina’s vice president of impact and planning, told Mirror Indy. 

Addressing inequities

While the percentages of Black and Hispanic residents earning a degree or certification have generally increased in Indiana since 2009, when Lumina’s ongoing study began, the report shows there is still a long way to go to close the gap between people of color and their white peers.

In Indiana, 43.1% of white residents and 62.2% of Asian and Pacific Islander residents between the ages of 25 and 64 earned at least an associate degree, according to the report. Comparatively, just 32.1% of Black residents and 27% of Hispanic residents had at least an associate degree. That percentage drops to 24.6% for the American Indian population.

Research shows that Black and Hispanic college students are also more likely to face other barriers to college completion.

Prior research from Lumina found that Black bachelor’s degree students were twice as likely to have other responsibilities — like working full time or caregiving — as compared to other students. Research from the Postsecondary National Policy Institute found that one-third of Hispanic college students worked at least 40 hours a week to finance their education.

That same Lumina research also found that 21% of Black students felt they were regularly discriminated against in their college or postsecondary programs nationally. That number increased as institutions became less diverse — a problem for Indiana, Brown said.

Educational disparities, Brown emphasized, are not the fault of students of color, but rather a consequence of a system that is largely inaccessible and unaffordable. Addressing the gaps means finding ways to support Black, Hispanic and other students of color with resources and wraparound services.

“When we see these disparities, we have to really think about, what are Hispanic and Black students facing?” she said. “And how can we help them, which will help everybody?”

Legislative attention

Improving the college-going and completion rates for all students has been a priority for Gov. Eric Holcomb and the state’s Commission for Higher Education. Currently, about one-third of Hoosier students do not graduate from college in six years — that number jumps to nearly 55% for Black students, according to state data.

Last year, the Indiana legislature passed a law that automatically enrolled eligible students in 21st Century Scholars, a program where low-income Indiana students can go to a state college for free, if they meet the guidelines.

This year, the Senate is considering a bill that would seek to improve Indiana’s college completion rates by exploring the possibility of giving some students who drop out an associate degree for their time. In addition, the bill would expand college credit programs and a program where students can retroactively get an associate degree from Ivy Tech after transferring, as well as create more three-year bachelor’s degree programs.

The bill unanimously passed the Senate Appropriations Committee Feb. 1, and now heads to the full Senate floor for a vote.

The Lumina Foundation is a supporter of Free Press Indiana, the nonprofit news organization behind Mirror Indy. 

Claire Rafford covers higher ed for Mirror Indy in partnership with Open Campus.