Indiana to Provide Free Community College Certificate Programs for In-Demand Fields

By Rachel Hirsch, July 26, 2017

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb recently signed into law Senate Bill 198 which provides free community college to students seeking a certificate in a “high value” field. This legislation, called the Workforce Ready Grant, is the product of a partnership between Governor Eric Holcomb, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, and the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, and was supported by the Indiana Skills2Compete Coalition. The Skills2Compete Coalition is a bipartisan coalition of state legislators, education policymakers, business, labor and community leaders, seeking to close the state’s skills gap. The state will provide $2 million a year for the grant program.

The Workforce Ready Grant will provide last-dollar tuition assistance to all students enrolled in a certificate program leading to a high value field, regardless of financial need. “High value” fields have been defined by the state as those that have “high job placement, high completion rate, high wage and high demand.” This grant builds on the energy of the state’s "You Can. Go Back." campaign, created last year, to encourage more adults to return and complete degrees and credentials through direct outreach, support from Indiana colleges, and $1,000 Adult Student Grants. Much of the Workforce Ready Grant’s intention is also to help adults return to school and gain new skills. Earning a certificate in an in-demand industry not only helps businesses to fill crucial human capital needs, but also allows adults in low-skilled, low-wage jobs to enter into career pathways leading to family-sustaining wages.

The Indiana Skills2Compete Coalition and National Skills Coalition are strong proponents of policies that help to expand equitable access to middle-skill credentials and careers. Establishing last- dollar scholarships for certificates in in-demand fields, as Indiana’s Workforce Ready Grant does, is one way that states can help adults with limited skills earn a postsecondary credential that leads to a quality middle-skill job while also ensuring that businesses have access to workers with the skills they require.

Middle-skill jobs, which require education beyond high school but not a four-year degree, make up the largest part of America’s and Indiana’s labor market. Many key industries in Indiana are currently unable to find enough sufficiently trained workers to fill these jobs. Like many states, Indiana faces a growing middle-skill gap. In 2015, 58% of jobs in Indiana were middle-skill, but only 47% of the state’s workers are trained to the middle-skill level.

As Indiana policymakers continue to consider ways to close the skill gap, we encourage them to take an expansive view of “high value” fields, so as not to unnecessarily limit students’ access to the diversity of community college pathways that lead to family-sustaining, middle-skill jobs. We also encourage them to look at policies that will leverage the Workforce Ready Grant by further expanding adults’ access to middle-skill training. These include increasing investments in proven programs, such the WorkINdiana adult education program that combines high school equivalency diplomas with industry-recognized credentials, as well as making new investments in job-driven adult literacy services that provide the first rung on the ladder to further middle-skill training. Indiana policymakers can also help adults pursue in-demand, middle-skill credentials by connecting them with services, such as childcare and transportation assistance, that make it easier to balance work and family responsibilities with their training.  

The Indiana Skills2Compete Coalition is made up of a bipartisan group of state legislators as well as education policymakers, business, labor, and community leaders that have come together with the aim of closing Indiana’s skills gap and serving as a resource for policymakers working toward that end. The Coalition uses research and data to promote public policies that will bring greater awareness to and help match the skills of Indiana’s workers with the demands its workforce.

*Numerous states have enacted legislation this year to help close the skills gap by expanding job-driven financial aid policies, increasing work-based learning opportunities (particularly apprenticeships), and increasing the use of workforce data. NSC's recent roundup outlines 2017’s key state legislative actions.