Ivy Tech has been the unexpected driver of political change in Indiana this year. When Lt. Governor Sue Ellspermann revealed that she was interested in the vacant position of Ivy Tech President, it set off a ripple effect throughout Indiana politics.
Of course, by now you know Ellspermann resigned and was replaced by U.S. Senate candidate Eric Holcomb. Holcomb’s exit from the Senate contest added further intrigue to the 2016 governor’s race, and left a two-man battle between Congressmen Marlin Stutzman and Todd Young for the Senate.
Two weeks ago, the Indianapolis Star’s Chelsea Schneider reported 30 people applied for the Ivy Tech position. Ellspermann was among the applicants, as was former Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, and possibly a member of Indiana’s Congressional delegation (not Susan Brooks, who declined).
The list of applicants does not include me. I admit, the $357,000 salary is attractive. But, truth is, Ivy Tech’s problems are so great right now that I’m not sure any amount of money would get me there. Despite exponential growth, the institution is struggling to graduate students (particularly minority students), it doesn’t track job placement, and lawmakers last year called for a closer look at their results.
The Indiana Commission for Higher Education released a report with some of their findings on Ivy Tech in December. Ivy Tech was supposed to have produced their first in a series of responses by March 1, but they may have missed that deadline.
So we at Indiana Explained dove into the CHE report as well as some of Ivy Tech’s own figures to highlight some of the biggest issues with the network.
We’ll start with a look at what happened with a specific cohort of students. The numbers below are look at what happened to the group that enrolled in Ivy Tech in 2010 after three years. This was a class of 25,000 students, 72% of which were white, 16% African American, 4% Hispanic, and 8% other.
The numbers here should be shocking to anyone, particularly the numbers for black students. In three years, only 3% of black students earned the certification they were pursuing. Nearly two-thirds dropped out, and 16% were still making tuition payments entering their fourth year.
College officials will usually site Ivy Tech’s differing mission when defending their graduation rates. They say their job is often to equip students with some skills and coursework needed to get them into a 4-year institution. Yet, only a quarter of students who transfer end up with a degree after six years.
Ivy Tech doesn’t have a 6-year outlook that is quite as detailed for the 2010 cohort, but there are statistics that show the 6-year graduation rate, which is well below the national average for community colleges.
In their report, the Commission for Higher Ed called upon Ivy Tech to get rid of some of the programs that had a low participation rate and low completion rate. The school’s decision regarding those changes should be included in this month’s report.
Ivy Tech is often billed as a value institution that lets you earn a two-year degree at a better price than any other school in the state. Yet, they do not track job placement rates, and many of us know someone who has spent years at the school working and going to class, racking up tuition expenses for a degree that might never come. These six-year graduation rates confirm that anecdotal evidence.
On an individual level, all of this is cause for concern. Students entering Ivy Tech should know the success rate is abysmal. But on a more macro level, policymakers should be alarmed because of the amount of money that has been poured into the institution since it became state’s official community college system 10 years ago.
After a peak that coincided with the Great Recession, when thousands of Hoosiers were unemployed and seeking additional training, enrollment is back on the decline. Yet expenditures continue to rise.
Senator Luke Kenley raised these concerns in 2015, when he threatened to withhold funds because of performance. But there is a long history of the school wielding its significant influence (often hiring top legislators) in order to increase its footprint.
Ivy Tech could and should be a major asset for the state of Indiana. It’s an accessible institution that can play an enormous role in training young people and adults alike who seek to fill that thousands of available jobs in the state.
It’s an institution worth saving, but we first need to recognize that it does actually need to be saved.
The next president of Ivy Tech — whether it’s Ellspermann, Ballard, or someone else entirely — needs to realize the challenges the school faces and be equipped to address them head-on.
If the problems are not addressed, it will soon be time to wonder whether the Ivy Tech experiment has been a failure.