Short Session Starts With a Flurry of Activity

The Governor and General Assembly have continually heard from Hoosier employers on the need for a skilled workforce – and better aligning state programs with job demand. The good news is bills are being introduced to address those concerns. While only a handful of measures have been released to date, we are seeing legislation related to training tax credits and grants, as well as efforts to streamline current workforce programs. We anticipate a comprehensive workforce bill (1002) will be introduced in the House later next week.

The Governor’s computer science bill (SB 172) requires all public schools to offer a one-semester elective computer science course at least once each school year to high school students. We expect a hearing on this measure in the next two weeks. Both this and the workforce efforts are 2018 Indiana Chamber legislative priorities.

Senate Bill 257 has been introduced by Sen. Travis Holdman (R-Markle) to serve as the beginning of discussions on clarifying the exempt status of computer software sold as a service (SaaS) – a Chamber priority. Holdman is also authoring another major piece of tax legislation, SB 242, which contains a variety of tax matters. The House bills are coming in too, with a good number already filed addressing local tax issues.

Speaking of local matters, the Chamber is very pleased to see that the House Republican agenda includes a bill that will make township government more effective and efficient by the merging of townships (approximately 300) where less than 1,200 people reside. Such local government reform has been a longstanding Chamber goal.

In addition to SB 257, other technology-related bills include Rep. Ed Soliday’s (R-Valparaiso) autonomous vehicle (AV) proposal to position Indiana to safely test and implement AV technology with automobiles. The bill also will address truck platooning, which uses GPS and WiFi technology to allow trucks to more closely follow each other for greater efficiency, on Indiana roads.

Rural broadband, high-speed internet and small cell wireless structures technology all will be topics for the Legislature to debate. Certified technology parks also will be discussed with the idea to have an additional capture of sales and income tax revenue for those complexes that perform well.

In health care, enabling employers to ask prospective employees if they are smokers not only heads the Chamber’s wish list but also appears to be gaining traction this go-round. Eliminating the special protections (currently in state statute) for smokers is found in SB 23 and will be guided by Sen. Liz Brown (R-Fort Wayne). The bill has a pretty good chance of getting a hearing in the Senate – which would be a first. Previously, a measure was taken up in a joint hearing in the House.

Increasing the tobacco tax and raising the legal age for smokers to 21 are policies that likely will be included in a bill to be introduced by Rep. Charlie Brown (D-Gary). The Indiana Chamber is supportive of both.

Nine utility-related bills are on our radar screen at this point. They range from tweaks of last year’s big legislation (like SB 309, which addressed rising energy costs and a long-standing struggle between the investor-owned electric utilities and larger consumers of energy) to compulsory sewer connection, excavation for infrastructure, regulation of solar energy systems in homeowners’ associations and new water legislation. Separately, Sen. David Niezgodski (D-South Bend) has a proposed ban on coal tar pavement sealer, which we oppose.

There are also a number of bills proposing changes to Indiana’s alcohol laws including: Sunday sales, cold beer sales by grocery and convenience stores, and increases in fees and penalties.

The Chamber will be providing more details on all of these bills as the session progresses.

For anyone who wants a refresher about how legislation becomes law, the Chamber has a handy guide free of charge. It includes a diagram of the bill process, a glossary of often-used terms and a look at where bills commonly get tripped up.

Additionally, the Chamber will be providing updates and issuing pertinent documents throughout the session at www.indianachamber.com/legislative.

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.