This week, the Indiana State Board of Education approved new, more rigorous high school graduation requirements for Hoosier students. The vote came following more than six hours of testimony. This took place after the Indiana General Assembly requested that the State Board find alternative paths for students to graduate, in order to address the issue of students being unprepared to move on to higher education or enter the workforce. It was also to solve the problem of students caught in a constant remedial loop when it came to end-of-course assessments.

Leading up to the State Board’s decision, the Graduation Pathways Taskforce came together to determine recommendations. The Indiana Chamber was appointed to the taskforce to serve as the voice of employers. The Chamber participated in nearly a dozen meetings, at three to five hours each in length, to hear from stakeholders, collaborate with those in the field and to develop a framework for alternatives to the end-of-course assessment path.

Significant time was spent discussing how too many students simply did not have the skills needed to move on to higher education (and thus required remediation) or enter the workforce, where they required additional training. In addition, the economy is changing – the Great Recession starting in 2008 decimated the low-skilled jobs that required only a high school diploma. And over 95% of jobs that were created during the economic recovery period require students to have some sort of postsecondary education.

According to the Chamber’s own Indiana Vision 2025 Report Card, we are ranked 42nd in the country in postsecondary attainment. What’s more, in the most recent Chamber employer survey, 47% of jobs have been left unfilled this year due to under-qualified applicants. The state Department of Workforce Development only sees the trend continuing, estimating that in the next 10 years Indiana will have over one million vacant jobs. When it comes to higher education, data shows that 14% of students moving on to college require remediation in their freshman year.

What does this all mean? It means that the status quo in Indiana high schools is not working; it is simply not good enough.

The Pathways Taskforce, by a vote of 13-1, supported a recommendation that would change high school graduation requirements to: 1) meet currently-defined high school diploma requirements; 2) learn and demonstrate employability skills (through a project-based learning experience, service-based learning experience or work-based learning experience); and 3) demonstrate some postsecondary-ready competencies (honors diploma; hitting ACT or SAT benchmarks; hitting military-readiness exam benchmarks; receiving a state- or industry-recognized certification; receiving a state-, federal- or industry-recognized apprenticeship; have a CTE (career technical education) concentration; complete an Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate/or dual credit program; or participate in a locally-developed pathway approved by the State Board. It was the taskforce’s hope that this would address the challenges outlined above.

The Chamber testified in support of the recommendation that was approved this week by the State Board 7-4. We appreciated having the opportunity to be the voice for employers in determining how to help tackle the skills gap and employee shortages, and better prepare young people for their careers.

Resource: Caryl Auslander at (317) 264-6880 or email: [email protected]