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Economic growth starts with educating Hoosier students first

In the summer of 2003 when Mitch Daniels’ newly christened RV1 was making its inaugural lap through the highways and byways of our great state, a group of young Hoosiers organized a rally in Columbia City.  I was proud to lead this group and welcome them to my grandparents’ property for Mitch’s first trip to Whitley County.  We titled our rally “We Want to Stay.”  Nearly 250 college students and young professionals from every corner of the state gathered to send the future governor and many media outlets a message: we stood for Mitch because Mitch stood for opportunity for young Hoosiers.  We were on the verge of entering the Indiana workforce, and Mitch gave us hope.

While Governor Daniels has worked hard to spur economic development and put our state on the right track for a comeback, the economic downturn has created the perfect storm of unacceptably high unemployment and rising budget deficits.  These issues have taken center stage at our state legislature where the Governor has valiantly led efforts to cut state spending without raising taxes.

As a candidate for State Senate District 17, putting unemployed and underemployed Hoosiers back to work is priority number one.  In order to get there, we must focus on better educating our Hoosier workforce.  As companies expand and search for locations to build their business, they first ask Indiana economic development specialists whether the available workforce has the necessary skills to fill their jobs.  There is an important trend in Indiana public universities that we must address if we want those questions answered with an emphatic “yes.” 

Indiana and Purdue Universities are accepting an increasing percentage of out of state students each year in order to receive out of state tuition rates to cover budget deficits.  This trend hits home as I consider that my slightly better than average high school grades may not have been enough to earn me a spot at Indiana University and the opportunity to become the first in my family to graduate from college if I were applying today, rather than 13 years ago.  But more importantly, it concerns me greatly for young Hoosiers applying to pursue an education at I.U. or Purdue today.

Consider this: according to I.U. “Fact Books”, since 2004, the out of state student population has risen one percent each year and in 2009, the total percentage of I.U. out of state freshmen was an astonishing 45 percent.  Compare that with 2002 when the total out of state percentage was just 21 percent according to the same source. 

I’ve done enough research to see that this issue isn’t unique to Indiana.  In fact, states all across the country are wrestling with it.  With nowhere to turn to make up for budget deficits, college presidents are opting to increase the number of out of state students for the extra cash.  This is, of course, to the detriment of young Hoosier students and ultimately, to our economic recovery. 

As a result, some states have determined to cap the percentage of out of state students their state universities can enroll.  The caps vary widely, but all have the same goal: provide opportunity for in state students to attend college who, in turn, will be likely to enter the state workforce well-educated and primed to make a valuable contribution to the state’s economy. 

In Colorado the cap is nearly 50 percent while in North Carolina it is 18 percent.  Here in Indiana, a Democrat State Representative has sponsored a bill, House Bill 1141, to cap the out of state percentage at 25 percent of any freshman class at our public universities. 

As a legislator, I would push for a cap on the out of state student population in our public universities.  I believe we must work to ensure that every capable Indiana high school student who wants to attend one of our taxpayer subsidized universities has the opportunity to do so. 

With a state average of nearly 10 percent unemployment as of December of 2009 and closer to 12 percent throughout the 17th Senate District, we cannot afford to fund our state colleges and universities to pay for the education of New York and Illinois students.  It is time to demand that our public institutions of higher learning welcome as many Hoosier students as possible.  If we don’t turn back this trend now, the education gap in our state will be one statistic that will very much hinder our road to an economic comeback. 

Jim Banks is a Whitley County Councilman, Director of Business Development at Hagerman Construction, Graduate of Indiana University-Bloomington and a candidate for State Senate District 17.  Visit his website at www.JimBanks.us.    

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