ANDERSON — At 41.7 percent, Madison County has one of the highest high school graduate rates in Indiana.
But the educational attainment of county residents falls off quickly after that.
Only about 25 percent of the population has earned an associate, bachelor's or graduate degree, which causes a drag on the local economy and hurts the prosperity of workers, said Teresa Lubbers, Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education, on Tuesday.
Lubbers was the keynote speaker at the Madison County College Success Summit hosted by the Madison County Education Coalition at the Flagship Enterprise Center.
"Indiana remains the most manufacturing intensive state in the country," Lubbers told education, business and community leaders.
But she quickly added that the time when county residents could graduate one day and apply for a high-wage automotive manufacturing job and attain a middle-class lifestyle is long gone.
Now, two-thirds of all jobs require some college or special certifications, Lubbers said. Without those credentials, job applicants will be relegated to low-wage occupations.
"The world shifted underneath us; there was a change of culture," said Lubbers, who grew up on the east side of Indianapolis that, like Anderson, was home to heavy manufacturing.
The complicated challenge now is to convince people that some post-secondary education is an absolute necessity, that it can be accessible and affordable. The other big challenge is that once students start a program, whether it's a two- or four-year degree, or a skills certification, they must finish, she said.
None of this was news to those gathered at the Flagship Enterprise Center, of course. Unlike some Indiana counties, a manufacturing round table comprised of business and economic development, education and community leaders has been collaborating in Anderson to address the problem.
"It all comes down to a cultural change and we're in the middle of it," said Rob Sparks, executive director of the Madison County Corporation for Economic Development.