INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Mitch Daniels wants every high school graduate in Indiana to attend college for at least two years — and he is working on a proposal that would have the state pick up the tab for more of them to do just that.
Daniels doesn’t yet know how much it would cost, how the state would pay for the plan or exactly which students would get two years of free tuition at Ivy Tech Community College or equivalent at another school.
But he said sending more students to college — even for two years — would be a huge step forward for young people and the Indiana economy.
Indiana ranks 41st among states for the percentage of adults with an associate degree or higher, according to a 2008 Indiana Chamber of Commerce report.
“We’ve got so many young people who graduate from high school without any hope or maybe even aspiration to go to school,” Daniels said Wednesday. “I’d like to change their aspirations.”
The state could consider several options to pay for the plan, Daniels said, including reviving his contentious proposal to lease the state lottery or shifting state money from other programs. Raising taxes would be a last resort, he said.
Daniels asked for ideas from leaders of Indiana colleges and universities who gathered at a higher education conference Wednesday at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Daniels told the crowd he wanted all high school graduates to be able to attend two years of college.
A good starting point, he told reporters later, would be guaranteeing free tuition at Ivy Tech for two years for students whose families do not exceed the state’s median family income of about $54,000.
“When you get to the wealthier families in the state, they have the guarantee already,” Daniels said. “We’re looking to provide it to those who otherwise wouldn’t go.”
If the state had more than enough money to cover families making less than the median income, Daniels said, it could expand the program.
Under the plan, students could attend Ivy Tech tuition free or shift that scholarship — worth about $3,000 for each of the two years — to another Indiana college. It is unclear how many students could benefit under such a plan.
Ivy Tech President Thomas Snyder said most students from families making less than about $40,000 or less can already attend the community college for free through other aid programs. Ivy Tech has agreed to limit future tuition increases to the rate of inflation — a move Daniels touted as he challenged other colleges to help make higher education more affordable.
Purdue President France Cordova said most students from families making the median income already receive at least some aid at Purdue. But she said she looked forward to working with Daniels and other higher education leaders to see if Purdue, which recently launched a new fundraising drive aimed at scholarships, could come with more ways to help students.
Middle-income families are often stuck without much aid, because they earn too much to qualify for some need-based programs, but not enough to easily afford college.
“It’s the students in that middle income range that take out the biggest loans and have that burden when they graduate,” she said.
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