FILE - Purdue University

Purdue Welcome Center at Purdue University.

(The Center Square) – Indiana saw the biggest one-year drop in the percentage of high school graduates going on to college in 2019, with just 59% enrolling in a college or university.

“This is serious,” Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers said in a letter accompanying the state’s annual college readiness report. “Indiana will not reach its big goal – that at least 60 percent of Hoosiers have a quality credential beyond high school by 2025 – and will not be able to fill its workforce pipeline needs without students attending college.”

The percentage of students going to college in Indiana has dropped 6% over the last five years, from 65% in 2015 to 59% in 2019.

It is now at its lowest level since 2009, when the Commission for Higher Education began tracking it.

“Previously, a strong economy was identified as a reason for fewer Hoosiers going into college,” said Lubbers. “However, the ongoing attitude that a college degree doesn’t hold value for Hoosiers is a contributing factor that cannot be overlooked.”

The decline in college enrollment in Indiana appears to follow a nationwide trend.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, of 3.2 million young people who graduated from high school in the spring of 2019, 2.1 million – 66% -- enrolled in college that fall. This was down from 2018 when 69% of high school graduates went on to college.

Lubbers warned that college enrollment numbers are likely going to continue to show a downward trend for 2020, as colleges and universities have reported lower enrollment numbers for the fall and spring of 2020, due to COVID-19 – about 4% lower for four-year institutions and 13% lower for two-year programs, such as those at Ivy Tech Community College.

The report breaks out the percent of high school graduates who go to college by race, geography, gender and socio-economic status.

The biggest difference was seen in socioeconomic status, with 35% of high school graduates from low-income families going on to college compared to 64% of students from higher-income families.

The state’s 21st Century Scholar’s Program, which awards full college scholarships to kids from low-income families who maintain passing grades in every high school course, had the highest rate– 88% went on to college in the fall of 2019 after graduating from high school in the spring.

The report also tracked where the state’s 2019 high school graduates enrolled – at which public colleges and universities. The highest number – 8,172 – enrolled at Ivy Tech in 2019, and the second highest number – 4,389 – enrolled at Indiana University-Bloomington. Purdue’s main campus in West Lafayette had 3,816 Indiana high school graduates enroll in the fall of 2019 and IUPUI had 3,735. Ball State University had 3,473.

In its report, the Commission for Higher Education has four recommendations for high schools to increase the number of graduates going on to college. They include providing more data to the state -- including high school grade point averages – and encouraging students to take dual-credit courses.

“Indiana students can earn a full year of college through the Indiana College Core for no more than $750, but only one-fifth of Indiana high schools currently offer the Indiana College Core,” the report says.

The commission also recommends high schools hire more teachers who are able to teach college-level courses, and encourage high school students to complete the FAFSA, the federal financial aid form.

The report does not offer recommendations that might address changing attitudes toward higher education, and the underlying issues of college cost and culture.

A Pew Research Center survey released in 2019 found that only half of adults in the United States think colleges and universities have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country and about 38% said they are having a negative effect – up 12% from 2012.