When the recession hit in late 2007, Ivy Tech Community College suddenly became the major focal point of post-secondary education across Indiana and in Madison County.
As laid-off workers sought to gain new skills and high school graduates recognized that their degree wouldn't be enough to gain lucrative employment, more and more Hoosiers turned to the statewide community college.
With the economy stumbling and new Ivy Tech President Tom Snyder, a prominent Andersonian, providing aggressive leadership, enrollment soared to nearly 130,000, and the Hoosier community college network drew national attention for its sudden growth.
Since then, enrollment has leveled off. And recently, a national report showed that Ivy Tech is lagging behind community colleges nationwide when it comes to getting students through to graduation. According to state data, only 4 percent of Ivy Tech students gain a degree within two years, and only 23 percent get their degree within six years.
Those statistics are troubling, particularly when you consider that Ivy Tech offers associate degrees, which are designed mostly as two-year programs.
Now, many folks who decide to study toward a two-year degree are at a point in their lives when full-time schooling isn't possible. They have children, or they have to work while going to school, squeezing in a few academic hours here and there where they can afford it and when they have the time. Others enter Ivy Tech to get preliminary classwork done with the idea of moving on to four-year colleges via Ivy Tech's collaborative agreements with Ball State University and others.
Also, in Madison County some enrolled at Ivy Tech after being laid off. But then they were hired back by the same company or another, forestalling the need for additional training for a new career.
But similar conditions exist for community college students in many other states, and Ivy Tech ranks dead last, according to the Lumina Foundation, in terms of students who earn their degree within six years.
Snyder disputes the state graduation statistics, noting that the stats count only first-time, full-time students. But he acknowledges that the community college system has lots of work to do to help students earn their degrees within a reasonable span of time.
Ivy Tech is also saddled with a $68 million budget deficit, so Snyder and other Ivy Tech officials have their work cut out for them in more than one way. Snyder says Ivy Tech might have to close a fourth of its facilities and lay off some staff and administrators. It's imperative that Ivy Tech manage its budget difficulties without steep rises in tuition rates. Many Hoosiers who seek higher education already find themselves unable to afford classes at four-year schools.
In Madison County, the state's unwillingness to provide adequate funding to Ivy Tech is illustrated by a campus in-waiting since 2007, when the City of Anderson donated 40 acres for a new Ivy Tech campus off Interstate 69. The state approved a $20 million investment in building a campus on the site — but has never released the money for the project.
Ivy Tech needs the state's help for projects like Anderson's new campus, and Snyder and other leaders of the statewide community college must figure out ways to make classes more convenient and timely to help students earn their degrees more quickly. Snyder says Ivy Tech will redesign its remediation program and offer more accelerated one-year programs. Those are steps in the right direction.