Editorial Roundup: Indiana

Indianapolis Business Journal. September 16, 2022.

Editorial: Leaders must act to ensure more students attend college

The percentage of Indiana high school graduates who go to college has been shrinking in recent years—but the rate dropped precipitously during the first year of the pandemic, falling 6 percentage points to 53%.

That’s startling by any measure. But consider this: The Indiana Commission for Higher Education described 2020’s college-going rate as “the lowest rate—and sharpest decline—in at least a generation.”

Chris Lowery, the state’s higher ed commissioner, called the decline “alarming.”

“And we have to treat it as such,” he said when the agency released the numbers. “We know individual lives and the state’s economy depend on and thrive with an educated society.”

He’s right that the state needs to act now, but stemming the drop in Hoosier high school graduates who choose college will take a multi-pronged effort by the state, universities, high schools and parents.

We don’t pretend to have all the answers here, but there are steps that seem like good places to start.

First, the Legislature should change the 21st Century Scholars program to automatically enroll middle school students who qualify. The program pays college tuition for students from lower-income households who keep up their grades and complete college-prep classes. But students who don’t sign up in middle school are ineligible to do so later. An automatic enrollment (or an opportunity to enroll later) could help students start to think about college sooner and afford it when it’s time to go.

Seventh-grade teacher Ronak Shah explains the issue more eloquently in a Viewpoint column on page 15A.

The 21st Century Scholars program is one way to attack the problem of rising tuition. But there are others. Purdue University has offered an example of how an exemplary school can hold down the price of attendance, including tuition and fees.

Outgoing President Mitch Daniels made freezing tuition a priority and, despite skeptics initially and now, he has done it. This year, Purdue has been rewarded with record enrollment on its West Lafayette campus. There are, no doubt, many factors for its growth, but 11 years of flat tuition certainly hasn’t hurt.

What Purdue has achieved by promoting its tuition freeze is confidence that it’s being respectful of the high price tag students pay to earn a degree. That doesn’t mean Purdue is cheap; nor does it mean that everyone can afford to attend. But the emphasis on cost offers some reassurance to students and parents who are otherwise facing a system where prices are incredibly hard to determine.

The higher ed commission has also recommended additional funding for the state’s Frank O’Bannon Grant, which offers need-based aid to students at public and private colleges. The grant helps more than 30,000 Hoosier students afford school, but funding was cut during the Great Recession. The commission proposes to increase the maximum award by 35%.

There are so many more ideas for boosting college-going rates, but there’s one more we want to emphasize: Middle and high schools need money to hire and train counselors who can help students and their families prepare for and navigate the difficult path that is higher education.

These ideas, of course, are just a start. What matters is that state officials and the Legislature make the issue a top priority.

___

Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. September 18, 2022.

Editorial: State legislation needed to mitigate warming temperatures

The city of Fort Wayne opened cooling stations five times this summer to help combat high temperatures and heat indices. At a “feels like” temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or more, spending time outdoors becomes dangerous. Without access to air conditioning, residents could suffer fatigue and dehydration, cramps, heat exhaustion – even heat stroke or death.

According to an August report by First Street Foundation, a nonprofit risk management research firm, Indiana and other middle-of-the-country states will become part of an “extreme heat belt” in the next 30 years. While other parts of the nation will have hotter temperatures, many counties stretching from eastern Texas to southwestern Michigan – including northeast Indiana’s Adams, Huntington, Kosciusko, Wabash and Whitley counties – could see at least one day each year where it feels like 125 degrees or more outside.

The report said this can be especially problematic for states such as Indiana that aren’t used to extreme heat and might not have enough air conditioners or cooling stations to keep people safe. Yet Hoosier lawmakers continue to ignore the climate crisis, and even went out of their way eight years ago to repeal an energy-efficiency initiative.

In 2012, then-Gov. Mitch Daniels launched a clean-energy program that required all electricity customers to pay a monthly fee to promote energy efficiency. It had been set up to produce energy savings of 2% by 2019, cut air pollution and reduce the need to build additional coal-fired power plants.

The General Assembly in 2014 repealed the program and prohibited state agencies from forcing utilities to meet efficiency goals.

“I think it goes without saying that reducing, if not eliminating, fossil fuels from our energy mix is critical,” Kerwin Olson, executive director of Citizens Action Coalition, a nonprofit advocating for utility ratepayers, affordable health care and a clean environment, told The Journal Gazette.

He suggests reinstating Daniels’ energy-efficiency savings goals, incentivizing businesses and manufacturers to decarbonize their industrial processes, improving energy-efficiency standards for buildings, and investing in electric buses and light rail in the state’s major metropolitan areas.

Climate change is driven by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses. Ten states account for 51% of this country’s carbon dioxide released from energy and electricity. Indiana is one of them, emitting about 190 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2018, eighth highest in the nation, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In both 2019 and 2020, more coal was consumed in Indiana than all but two states, data from the Energy Information Administration shows.

That’s because the Hoosier State has never required electricity utilities to generate more power from renewable energy sources.

Olson said some Indiana electric utilities are making significant moves toward renewable energy. NIPSCO will be carbon-free by 2028, he said, making a rapid transition to clean energy. Indiana Michigan Power spokesman Tracy Warner told The Journal Gazette I&M also will retire its last coal-fired plant by 2028, and the company already generates 80% of its electricity from renewable sources.

“We remain a state that pretty much rewards utilities merely for spending money and increasing sales,” Olson said. “So let’s start encouraging them and incentivize them to spend money in ways that will reduce our carbon footprint and reduce emissions.”

Heat causes more deaths per year than any other natural risk. Thirty years ago, northeast Indiana would have seen an average of three days at 100 degrees or higher. By 2053, First Street Foundation data suggests, 17 days could be in the 100s and another 56 days could top 90 degrees.

Posey County, the southwestern-most county in Indiana, is expected to have the highest number of days above 100 degrees: 47 in 30 years. Today it averages 27 days above 100 degrees.

Climate change is real, and the First Street Foundation provides a glimpse into the nation’s future if state and federal governments ignore legislation designed to reduce carbon emissions. Indiana can begin by restarting Gov. Daniels’ clean-energy program of 2012, allowing ratepayers to procure their own energy and incentivizing utilities to close coal-fueled power plants in the next legislative session.

END