Ivy Tech now a college of first choice

Guest column

Ivy Tech now a college of first choice

By John Whikehart, Special to the H-T

This guest column was submitted by John Whikehart, chancellor of Ivy Tech Community College – Bloomington.

I always enjoy Morton Marcus’ commentary in The Herald-Times. He reminds me a bit of my Uncle Walter. I enjoyed Walter, too. He could seem a bit curmudgeonly at times, but he was usually thought provoking, even if just to provoke disagreement.

I would have responded differently than my Ivy Tech-Gary colleague to Morton’s question about why my institution exists. In fairness, Morton did state that his inquiry was made several years ago. But the time when Ivy Tech was solely defined as a “second chance school” has passed.

Today, the Bloomington campus counts among its student body recent high school valedictorians, transfer-bound students from 71 of Indiana’s 92 counties, a unique relationship with Indiana University-Bloomington through a freshmen cohort titled “Hoosier Link” of state students dually enrolled at both institutions and a growing number of “first time” out-of-state and international students.

Students who begin their educational journey with us do so primarily because of accessibility, smaller class sizes and more affordable tuition. Many also begin here because community colleges are the gateways to higher education for many “first generation” students, students in need of financial aid and minority students.

So, my institution exists to be the access point to higher education, the college of first choice for many of Indiana’s citizens.

Morton is correct that Ivy Tech is charged with remediation of students not prepared for college work. For many, that need is in math. Some directly admitted from high school have not had a math class since their junior year. But rather than blame the quality of work in our high schools, perhaps changing Indiana’s Core 40 diplomas to require a math class in all four years is a way to reduce the need for remediation. A year’s hiatus from math before college is not helpful.

Judging our success against a clock set for “on-time completion of a degree” certainly does not take into account students in need of remedial work, students working part-time, and students — as Morton correctly suggests — who are not degree seeking at all. Many returning adult students, particularly in technology programs, are taking courses for job placement or advancement.

The majority of our Bloomington traditional students (60 percent) tell us they are not here to earn a degree, but to eventually transfer — primarily to IU-B. Last year alone, Ivy Tech-Bloomington students transferred more than 18,000 credit hours to a four-year institution, for a total savings of roughly $3.6 million. Under the state’s funding plan for “completion,” those numbers do not count.

Judging success by placement rates is an intriguing idea. Bloomington campus nursing students in 2012 exceeded state and national pass rates for licensure at over 95 percent, and our nursing and health program graduates have nearly a 100 percent job placement rate.

Morton makes a point that, as the largest community college system in the nation, we may have made some mistakes. The state’s funding has not kept pace with our enrollment growth, and that gap requires an examination of the number of campuses we can operate statewide. We have hired legislators in the system. I am aware of three in my 22 years with the college, and they all made significant contributions.

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