Complete College on Time with 15 Credits Per Semester

On-time graduation rates at public Indiana colleges and universities are staggeringly low. Only one in 10 students at two-year colleges finish a degree on time, and only three in 10 students finish a four-year degree on time, according to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education’s 2014 College Completion Reports.

The reports provide a robust, comprehensive picture of student success at each public college and university in Indiana. They include data on transfer and part-time students and disaggregated data by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status to focus attention on persistent achievement gaps.

Statewide, there’s a 24-point completion gap at two-year colleges between the highest-performing racial/ethnic group and the lowest-performing group. At four-year colleges, the gap is 31 points. Additionally, less than 4% of Pell grant recipients graduate on time from two-year colleges. About 17% of students receiving this need-based grant graduate on time from four-year colleges.

Why do these low graduation rates matter? First, graduating on time yields greater returns for students by lowering their cost per degree. The estimated cost of an additional year of schooling to a student is $50,000 in tuition, fees and lost potential income. What’s more: Indiana college graduates borrow over $27,000 for a four-year degree. As loan default rates rise, so does the importance of cutting college costs. The surest way to lower a student’s cost per degree is to finish sooner.

Second, institutions and the state bear significant costs for extra semesters as well, in lost productivity and additional financial aid awards. According to the College Completion Reports, four-year schools spend about $62,000 for each degree produced. About 30% of students don’t complete a four-year degree within eight years, adding to productivity losses for institutions.

Of course, for many students who are working or raising families, attending part-time may be the best option. Unfortunately, as students take additional semesters and hit state and federal financial aid limits, their probability of completing the degree declines. In fact, full-time students are six times more likely to graduate with a four-year degree than part-time students. And students who invest in their education but do not receive a diploma bear the greatest lost, reaping nearly zero return on their investment, according to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education’s Return on Investment Reports.

Fortunately, the state has made great strides on both policy and institutional levels to improve completion rates. For instance, thanks to recent reforms, state financial aid now funds completed credits rather than attempted credits to incentivize completion.

Additionally, credit creep legislation cut the number of credits per degree to 120 for four-year degrees and 60 for two-year degrees. This means students who take 15 credit hours per semester set themselves up to finish on time.

As we work to combat student loan default rates and the rising costs of college, we must continue to ask how we can use dollars more efficiently. Tackling graduation rates, and ensuring those who invest in their education complete it in the shortest time possible, is imperative to minimizing those costs.

To read institution-specific data in the 2014 College Completion Reports, visit the Indiana Commission for Higher Education’s web site.

Hannah Rozow is a senior at Indiana University – Bloomington and a student representative on the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

Don’t Squander That Tax Refund!

Taxes aren’t all bad – especially this time of year when refunds are doled out to the tune of (on average) approximately $3,000. But don’t be fooled. Before you embark on an extravagant shopping spree, there’s something I have to say: Halt! Stop! Wait!

Kiplinger offers 10 tips for spending (and saving) your refund. Paying off credit card debt, rebuilding your emergency fund and boosting retirement savings are great ways to protect – and pad – your pocketbook.

I know what you’re thinking: That’s no fun! Point taken. But heeding some of these suggestions might help you avoid a serious case of buyer’s remorse. Who wants to deal with that?

Throwback Thursday: Water on the Brain

Many involved in the Indiana environmental community are likely aware of our ongoing work on a survey of Indiana water resources in an effort to gauge future supply and demand.The Chamber actually hired Bloomington-based hydrogeologist Jack Wittman for the effort. In fact, read his recent Q & A with Indy-based NUVO magazine on the issue.

Along these lines, we recently discovered a similar report from June 1953, titled “Water Resources Report to Southern Indiana Inc.” The entire document is nearly 70 pages, but here are a few notes from the general summary:

These points are held to be fundamental guides for conducting future work:

1. Present water conditions – supplies; flood damages
2. Potential long-term supply needs
3. Potential long-term supply opportunities
4. Possible reductions of flood losses
5. General benefits to entire area which may result from improvement projects

The valley-wide approach to the water problem of Southern Indiana is all-important because surface water must be the main source of supply.

It is recognized that there now is a tremendous waste of water resources in Southern Indiana. Much water is lost in flood periods during the heavy rainfall seasons of the spring and early summer while many stream beds are almost dry in late summer and fall months. Equalization of the stream flows, therefore, is taken as the key approach to the problem…

It is impossible to propose a “blanket remedy”  for water problems in Southern Indiana. IN any year, losses from drought may be just as severe as losses from flood, or greater. Any storage of water in small watersheds is of much value to farm operations. The value of farming is on equal status with that of manufacturing and commercial activities in the support of the business system.

Electric Vehicle Charging Station Program Begins in Northwest Indiana

In an effort to encourage more use of alternative fuels in Northwest Indiana, the Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) has partnered with South Shore Clean Cities to launch a pilot program making electric vehicle charging stations available to more public entities.

South Shore Clean Cities is a Crown Point-based public/private organization that promotes the use of alternative fuels and technology.

Through the end of January 2015, the IN-Charge Around Town Electric Vehicle Program offers financial incentives to help defray the costs of putting in charging stations on public buildings. NIPSCO is offering up to $1 million in incentives for the program, according to a press release.

This program is the second part of NIPSCO’s recent alternative fuel push; the IN-Charge at Home Program gave an instant credit for residents to install a charging station on their property. Additionally, NIPSCO will buy an equal amount of renewable energy certificates for every unit of electricity used through the program.

“Electric vehicles are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to gasoline-powered cars,” explains Carl Lisek, executive director of South Shore Clean Cities, in a press release. “They offer fuel cost savings, produce no tailpipe emissions and help reduce reliance on imported oil.”

Charging station owners can choose to charge for using the station, but will operate free of charge for the owners.

Single Computer Screen Better than Double

I’ve written in this space before about workplace distractions, as in trying to have fewer of them. In thinking that most people would agree with that plan, I was a bit mystified as dual computer monitors became a quickly growing trend.

The research showed that productivity could be enhanced with two monitors. But that was if, and only if, you can avoid the interruptions — which can come twice as fast in the two-monitor world.

Farhad Manjoo, a personal tech columnist for The New York Times, summed it up in a recent column. He eloquently states:

In a switch that amounts to heresy among some techies, I’ve become a two-screen skeptic. Two months ago, about five years after becoming an ardent proselytizer for the Church of the Second Display, I turned off the extra screen on my desktop computer.

At first, the smaller workspace felt punishingly cramped. But after a few days of adjusting to the new setup, an unusual serenity invaded my normally harried workday. With a single screen that couldn’t accommodate too many simultaneous stimuli, a screen just large enough for a single word processor or browser window, I found something increasingly elusive in our multiscreen world: focus.

The column also noted that it can take workers as long as 25 minutes to regain focus after being interrupted. And constant interruptions create a stressful workplace.

Gloria Mark, a professor who studies workplace distractions (how does one get a job like that?) at the University of California advises that people turn off email notifications, and answer and write email in batches once or twice a day rather than every few minutes. She notes that taking up such habits requires both personal discipline and buy-in from your bosses and co-workers.

Manjoo concludes:

That gets to the blessing of one monitor. With a single screen, I was forced to fight my distractions. I had to actively prevent myself from falling into email and Twitter, from ever losing focus on my main window. It took some time for me to exercise that willpower. But by finding methods of sticking to my task rather than coping with my distractions, my single-screen machine ultimately improved how I work. It can for you, too — if only you resist the pull of two displays.

 

Going the Mega-Region Route for Economic Development

Richard Florida — he of The Rise of the Creative Class fame — is writing about economic development in a recent post at The Atlantic Cities. But we’re not talking about counties teaming up for business attraction and retention purposes.

Florida says satellite images of the globe at night were used to identify the world’s 40 “mega regions,” defined as a contiguous lighted area with more than one major city or metropolitan area that produced more than $100 billion in economic output.

In North America, this means 12 mega regions that account for 243 metropolitan areas in the U.S. and Canada. The combined population is 230 million people (215 million from the U.S., which account for 70% of our population).

The Chi-Pitts region, which includes Indianapolis, has a $2.3 trillion economic output that would make it the world’s seventh largest.

Here is a quick rundown on the 12 creatively-named regions, from largest to smallest:

•Bos-Wash stretches from Boston through New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore to Washington, D.C., a total of 500 miles. It is home to 18 percent of the U.S. population – 56.5 million people. The region generates $3.75 trillion in economic output, meaning that, if Bos-Wash were a separate country, it would be the fourth largest economy in the world, behind only the U.S., China, and Japan and ahead of Germany.

•Chi-Pitts extends north and west from Pittsburgh through Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Chicago, and Minneapolis, taking in more than 50 metros in all. Home to 41.8 million individuals, this mega-region’s economy is just a bit smaller than the United Kingdom’s, about the same size as Brazil’s and bigger than all of Russia’s.

•Char-lanta, which is home to 22 million people, takes in 45 metros, including Atlanta, Georgia; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Birmingham, Alabama. With more than a trillion in economic output, its economy is bigger that South Korea’s, placing it among the world’s 15 largest economies.

•So-Cal runs from L.A. through San Diego and spills into Tijuana, Mexico, accounting for 21.8 million people and more than one trillion in economic output.

•So-Flo includes Miami, Orlando and Tampa and is home to 15 million people. It produces more than $750 billion in economic output, making it about the same size as the Netherlands or Turkey.

•Nor-Cal includes San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland and 14 other metros surrounding San Francisco Bay. It has a population of 13 million people and produces more than $900 billion in output, roughly the same as Indonesia and more than Turkey.

•Tor-Buff-Chester stretches north from Buffalo and Rochester, taking in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal in Canada. It has an estimated population of more than 16 million (several smaller Canadian metros are not included in this tally). It generates output of nearly $600 billion, more than Sweden.

•Dal-Austin encompasses Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio, Texas. Its population is just under 12 million. It produces more than $700 billion in economic output, more than Sweden or oil-rich Saudi Arabia.

•Hou-Orleans, the great energy-producing belt that stretches from Houston through Mobile, Alabama to New Orleans, is home to more than 10 million people. It produces more than $750 billion in economic output, about the same as the Netherlands.  (Some researchers have suggested combining Houston, Dallas-Ft. Worth and Austin into a single “Texas Triangle.” This mega would include 20 million people, and its $1.5 trillion economy would be comparable to Australia’s and just a bit smaller than India’s or Canada’s.)

•The Cascadia mega-region, which stretches up from Portland, Oregon through Seattle and into Vancouver, Canada, is home to nearly 10 million people. It generates economic output of about $600 billion, comparable to Switzerland

•Phoenix-Tucson is home to more than 5 million people and generates economic output of more than $250 billion, just slightly less than Hong Kong.

•Denver-Boulder has 4.2 million people and $256 billion in economic output, more than Finland, Greece or Ireland. If it were a nation, it would  rank among the world’s 50 largest economies.

So What’s the Deal with Bitcoin?

If you’re like me, you’ve pondered what exactly Bitcoin is. And you’re possibly uneasy about the thought of a “virtual currency.” Or maybe that’s just me.

Elaine Bedel of Bedel Financial Consulting is widely thought of as one of Indiana’s top financial experts (and we’re proud to say she serves on the Indiana Chamber’s finance/audit committee). She recently offered a useful summary of Bitcoin for Inside INdiana Business:

Bitcoin is a “virtual” currency. There is no physical paper or coins that you can touch or feel. It is an online currency. There is no centralized authority controlling bitcoin like other currencies such as the U.S. Dollar, Euro, and Yen.

How Do You Get Bitcoin?

Bitcoin can be purchased through an exchange or received in return for the sale of products and services. Once received, bitcoin can in turn be spent for other products or services. Today, there are almost 2,400 online businesses that accept bitcoin.

What is the Appeal of Bitcoin?

There are several reasons why bitcoin has appeal to some individuals. They include both good and not so good reasons:

-Limited Supply. The amount of bitcoin that can be created is capped at 21,000,000. For individuals concerned that governments are printing too much money, having a type of currency with a limited amount of supply is appealing.

-Privacy. Bitcoin provides a certain amount of privacy for its users. The ownership and recording of transactions with bitcoin is essentially a numerical code; therefore, there is no personal information attached when a person uses it. However, depending on where the bitcoin is used or stored this may be changing and some privacy may be given up. Several stories regarding bitcoin being used for online illegal activity has raised issues concerning the level of anonymity.

-Speculation. The value of bitcoin has skyrocketed in the past year. It has ranged from $100 to over $1,100 over the past twelve months and is now valued at approximately $500. This volatility in value is not appealing for a currency. To be widely accepted and used, the value of a legitimate currency needs to remain relatively stable.

What Does the IRS Say?

The IRS announced last week that bitcoin will be treated as property and not as currency. This ruling will likely make it more difficult for bitcoin users. Every time someone uses bitcoin to purchase a good or service, they will be required to keep track of their cost basis on those bitcoin for tax purposes. If the bitcoin was purchased or received a long time ago, it has likely gone up in value. Therefore, the individual will pay either capital gain or ordinary income tax on the increase in value when he/she files income taxes for that year. When the tax impact is included, a purchase may cost more when bitcoin is used than when dollars are spent.

The tax impact may cause some bitcoin holders to treat it more like an investment and less like a currency. If investors hold on to their bitcoin as a long term investment, it will limit the bitcoin in everyday circulation. A currency cannot exist if the everyday supply is too limited.

Beer Market: Hoosier Beer Climate Continues Upswing

Business Insider recently posted a list of what’s been designated as the 20 best beers in the world. Check it out and see which one’s you’ve had — and need to try.

We’re also happy to say that Munster-based Three Floyds Brewing has two on the list. In fact, the top two beers in the world are mentioned in an anecdote from Indiana: One Pint at a Time author Douglas Wissing in an article I wrote for BizVoice last year about Indiana brewing, “Taste of Success: Local Craft Brewers Building an Industry.”

For more on the state of the industry in Indiana, see this Inside INdiana Business interview and accompanying article with Sun King Brewing founder Clay Robinson and Barnaby Struve of Three Floyds Brewing.

New Job, New Faces, New City

Congratulations! You’re about to embark on one of life’s most exciting experiences: starting a new job. It’s also one of the most stressful. Now let’s add another element to the mix: The position is in a different state. That’s right – it’s time to relocate.

Moving can bring many positive life changes (imagine all of the memories you’ll create in your new home!), but often not without some bumps along the way. So, where do you begin?

A story on Forbes.com provides several helpful tips. Staying organized, asking for relocation assistance (even if your employer doesn’t typically offer it), taking time to familiarize yourself with your new environment before you move and building a social support network can help ease the transition.

Check out Eight Tips for a Successful Job Relocation and share your input with us. What do you wish you would have known prior to moving to another city or state for a new job?