Ivy Tech celebrates a decade in its westside digs

The Herald-Times

COMMENTARY
Ivy Tech celebrates a decade in its westside digs

By Mike Leonard 331-4368 | mleonard@heraldt.com
July 29, 2012, last update: 7/28 @ 7:50 pm

Bloomington Ivy Tech Chancellor John Whikehart greets students on the first day of fall classes last year. Monty Howell | Herald-Times

It’s not about the building. But then again, in some ways, it is.

People driving through downtown Bloomington or around the Ivy Tech campus last week might have noticed the newly hung banners that tout the community college’s 10-year building anniversary and its goals for student success and civic engagement.

The building is important, no doubt. Before 2002, Ivy Tech was housed in a group of buildings in Westbury Village on the northwest side of Bloomington. A group of buildings designed to be a shopping center.

In the fall of 2002, students walked through the doors of a gleaming, green glass-accented, 148,000-square-foot building that said this is a college and we do important work here.

A lot of factors have come into play over the past decade, but the one thing that is undeniable is that Ivy Tech Bloomington has been successful beyond anyone’s reasonable expectations.

Student enrollment climbed steadily from 2,600 students to the current peak of 6,400. The building designed to accommodate 5,000 already is maxed out and the college has been awaiting state approval to issue bonds and expand since 2007.

Some 4,754 students have earned certificates or degrees. “And those 4,754 students are here in south-central Indiana working here, working in their fields of study, adding to our economy and in most cases supporting their spouses and families,” Chancellor John Whikehart said last week.

“But keep in mind,” he said, “that number is just one number to look at. The largest group of our students are transfer-bound students — students who are literally telling us it’s not their intention to earn a certificate or degree from us but to take their credits on, primarily to Indiana University. And that’s absolutely part of our mission as well.”

When the state of Indiana designated the Ivy Tech system to be the state’s official community college system, it asked Ivy Tech to develop from what was initially a vocational college to a comprehensive community college system. No Ivy Tech location has done that better than Bloomington, which went from 13 courses and 39 possible credit hours that IU would accept to more than 400 credit hours that can be applied to an IU degree.

Ivy Tech may not have a thrilling basketball program or a world renowned opera house, but it does offer quality, accredited courses that cost roughly a third what classes at IU cost.

Ivy Tech students contributed 20,208 hours of volunteer service to its six-county service region last year, or $891,167 worth of help to 80 nonprofit agencies in the region.

And while the campus does very well with its mission of workforce development, it’s also a magnet for Hoosier students like no other Ivy Tech location. Last year, the Bloomington campus had students from 71 of Indiana’s 92 counties — clear proof that the academic quality of the institution is well-recognized.

Few people in Bloomington haven’t seen Chancellor Whikehart out and about, contributing his time and leadership to any number of local endeavors, both serious and fun. Last week, he made a point of noting that the sometimes maligned former IU president Adam Herbert had a big hand in helping Ivy Tech connect with IU. “He came from the Florida system where there was a common course numbering across Florida institutions, and he was very committed to making it easier for courses to transfer from Ivy Tech to IU,” Whikehart said. “He brought Ken Gros Louis back as chancellor and Ken was extraordinarily committed to making those transfers seamless. We now have a very good relationship with IU.”

Ivy Tech greatly enhanced its connection to the Bloomington community when it bought the beleaguered John Waldron Arts Center, spiffed it up, and beefed up its offerings in personal enrichment and professional development.

Ivy Tech’s growth and maturity as a community college has been nothing short of spectacular and an asset to Bloomington and south-central Indiana. The construction of the big green building on Blooomington’s west side was indeed a catalyst, as were Whikehart’s tireless efforts to promote Ivy Tech and the quality of the Ivy Tech faculty.

The college will celebrate its 10th year on Daniels Way all year, but will also rededicate the building in a 4-5 p.m. ceremony at the campus on Sept. 5.

There ought to be a bigger building on the site — given that the Indiana General Assembly approved the design for a new addition in 2007 and approved bonding authority for construction in 2009. The state is withholding approval for the issuance of bonds and construction, however, for what appears to be political purposes more than anything else.

So while some students are back to taking classes in the strip malls near the campus, Ivy Tech has much to be proud of, and many reasons to celebrate 10 years at its current location. When Connie and Steve Ferguson donated $1 million to the school last August, hoping to prod the state to move ahead with expansion, Connie explained the couple’s generosity with the following observation:

“It’s one of those cases where the bricks and mortar made a difference,” she said. “You can see it in the students — they recognize this institution means something.”

Copyright: HeraldTimesOnline.com 2012