Obtaining a college degree, or even a high school diploma, was not always as critical to one’s success as it is today. However, in order to succeed in today’s workforce, a high school diploma is absolutely critical, and this is a realization facing Hoosiers of all ages. While we continue to encourage students to attend some sort of post-secondary education, it is important that we do not forget about the importance of high school as well.
Research shows that on average, a high school graduate earns $8,400 more per year than someone who dropped out. For a Hoosier that is working 40 hours a week at minimum wage, that is more than half of their salary. The unemployment rate for individuals without a high school diploma is also about 5 percentage points higher.
We devoted a significant amount of time this session working to create an easier path to successful diploma completion for Hoosiers of any age. For instance, I was proud to support legislation that repeals the rule prohibiting the establishment of new adult high schools. By allowing for more charter adult high schools, we are increasing Indiana’s ability to serve at-risk populations and providing an alternative to the GED program. This will afford a high school education to adults who would otherwise do without and will increase their chances for success.
I also supported a piece of legislation which deals with a variety of education-related subjects that each aim to encourage students to stay in school. Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 330 allows instructional time to include college and career readiness training. This will enable schools to educate students in a way that will mold them into the type of highly skilled workers that businesses in Indiana desperately need. This will also allow students to study the fields that interest them most.
This legislation also allows attempts to attract high-quality high school and college students to the teaching profession, specifically in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Students who are in the highest 20 percent of their high school graduating class will now be eligible for loan repayment if they teach at an Indiana public school.
Schools are finding it harder and harder to find qualified teachers in STEM fields, and these are the fields in which Indiana’s workforce is in desperate need of highly skilled workers. Businesses have testified that they have job openings but cannot find workers qualified enough in technology and engineering to fill their vacancies. By encouraging the best students to become teachers in STEM fields, we are ensuring that more students receive ample instruction in those fields and simultaneously strengthen Indiana’s worker pool.
Indiana is currently ranked 29th in the percentage of adults with a high school diploma, so there is clearly a substantial need for programs that lead to successful high school diploma completion for adults. In order to maintain Indiana’s strong economy, it is important that we allow a second chance to those who wish to go back to school and improve their quality of life. Ultimately, our goal is to make it easier for Hoosiers to succeed, regardless of the path they take to get there. The changes that we made this session will have a positive, long-lasting result for our state, and this is just another reason why I am so optimistic about Indiana’s future.