October 2008, Volume 9, Number 10
Member Spotlight: Ivy Tech Community College
Ivy Tech Community College
Indiana’s Remarkable Transition to a Community College System
If Ivy Tech Community College were a sports star, its story would make a compelling Hollywood script. The essential elements are there: Humble beginnings (“Indiana Vocational Technical College,” created in 1963 with few funds, and no classes the first three years), skeptical teammates (other colleges and universities hostile to indifferent), and resistance from certain powerbrokers. And then, slowly but surely: influence, recognition, and the kind of triumph that results in the betterment of society – at least in the Hoosier State. Now that it is Indiana’s education powerhouse (second only to IU in size), Ivy Tech’s sole resemblance to its beginnings is the popularized shorthand of the original name and the unceasing commitment to making post-secondary education available to any Indiana citizen with the desire for it.
The state-funded “voc-ed” experiment is now the fastest-growing institution of higher learning in Indiana. Academic programs number near 200, and enrollment has soared 75 percent in the past decade to 119,000 annually. President Tom Snyder wants to add another 30,000 to 40,000 students in the next decade. The college is a genuine community system of 23 campuses and multiple other sites, bringing higher education no farther away than an hour’s drive for the vast majority of Hoosiers. Increasingly, however, distance is not a factor: Ivy Tech offers a growing number of programs and courses online, with some degrees fully attainable through online and virtual classroom experience.
Transfer agreements with the state’s private and public colleges and universities are solid. Indiana University houses Ivy Tech students enrolled in Bloomington-connected programs, and Purdue University’s strategic plan outlines how Ivy Tech serves as a full partner in program coordination and offerings.
Ivy Tech provides college and workforce education to citizens regardless of socio-economic background, the imperatives of job responsibilities, or geographic distance. But it is also the state’s engine of workforce development, providing programs and training aligned with the needs of each community and its employers. The college’s approach is intentionally market-driven, with accelerated, certified training programs customizable to employer needs. Like every state, Indiana competes for major employers, as well as to preserve its smaller and more established businesses. As Indiana’s largest provider of employee training, Ivy Tech supplies the workers necessary to attract, and keep, those businesses. Professional and technical certification programs number over 2,000, and Ivy Tech training generates more than $150 million of additional earnings for Indiana workers.
The stakes are great. Indiana’s ranking in the number of citizens with postsecondary degrees and certifications is still too low. Ivy Tech’s two-pronged approach addresses the mutual needs of individual Hoosiers for more education and better pay, and the business-industrial sector’s demand for more workers with the right credentials and the appropriate training.
The legislation that made Ivy Tech the state’s community college system was accurately hailed as launching a new era in Indiana higher education, for many reasons. Unlike most community colleges, Ivy Tech didn’t begin as one. For that matter, no other state has a single, comprehensive multicampus community college system. Accredited, organized and operated as a single institution, Ivy Tech is now one of the largest community colleges in the United States.
This blanket-coverage single system confers numerous and significant advantages. Indiana’s community college is intended to be at the vanguard of a markedly more flexible and creative delivery of postsecondary education and workforce development throughout the state. So it makes tremendous sense to assign that function to one entity. It also fits the state’s comprehensive economic and workforce development strategy. As a single institution, efficiencies in purchasing, fiscal operations, facilities acquisition and maintenance are also attained, and Ivy Tech can establish common academic program standards that ensure portability of credits and certifications and consistency in quality. At the same time, sufficient authority to respond quickly to local employer needs still resides with the campuses.
As for students, they derive an additional benefit from the single-organization structure, as it ensures a more equitable distribution of educational opportunity and resources for Indiana’s rural as well as urban regions.
While local employment sectors often differ community to community, Ivy Tech has found an ideal balance between the advantages of a statewide system and the freedom that allows regional chancellors to develop programs uniquely responsive to their communities. Ivy Tech is one of the newcomers to official community college status, but it has been four decades in the making.
Does it have potential as a Hollywood storyline?
Let’s just say the sequel is already “in development.”
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