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Indiana ranks 46th in residents with degrees

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indiana's ongoing efforts to boost the number of residents with college degrees hasn't prevented it from losing ground against other states, new U.S. Census Bureau figures show.

An annual census survey released Monday shows that among the 50 states Indiana slid to 46th last year, down from 43rd in 2000, in terms of the percentage of residents 25 and older who have earned bachelor's or graduate degrees.

In Indiana, 21.1 percent of Hoosiers 25 and older have earned a college degree. That's up almost 2 percentage points from the 2000 census, but below the record-high national average of 28 percent for the same age group.

"We are gradually doing better, but not as well as other states are doing," said Stan Jones, Indiana's higher education commissioner. "Our college graduate production is continuing to go up. We're not keeping them in Indiana."

Education experts and business leaders concerned about Indiana's continued "brain drain" note that higher education leads to higher pay. The new census report found that workers with bachelor's degrees earn, on average, $51,000 a year, compared with $28,000 for high school graduates.

But the ramifications go beyond money because the nation's economy is increasingly dominated by jobs requiring highly skilled workers. And when a state can't supply them, companies look to expand operations elsewhere.

At the same time, manufacturing jobs that dominated the economies of Midwestern states like Indiana no longer offer the same level of financial security.

The problem has drawn closer attention from universities, businesses and community leaders in Indiana since the late 1990s, but significantly improving that statewide number is proving not to be easy.

"It's not realistic to expect it to move huge amounts, 5 or 7 percentage points in a year," said William Sheldrake, president of the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research group.

Indiana does better than most in sending young adults to college. Most Hoosiers who graduate from high school - nearly 63 percent - go on to college, which puts Indiana 10th in the country.

However, barely more than one in two graduate within six years, and of those who do, about 20 percent a year leave Indiana for jobs in other states. State education officials said that amounts to about 10,000 of Indiana's roughly 50,000 public and private college graduates each year.

However, Jones said the state's economy still is based heavily on manufacturing, and students need more high-paying jobs that will keep them in Indiana.

---Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)