Community college vital gateway to a better future for Hoosiers

Our Opinion

Community college vital gateway to a better future for Hoosiers

Posted: Saturday, August 24, 2013 12:00 am

The Herald-Times

The Ivy Tech message, delivered during a visit to the newsroom by an official contingent that included Ivy Tech President Tom Snyder, VP Jeffrey Terp and Ivy Tech Bloomington campus chancellor John Whikehart, is one we’ve heard before.

It’s one that Whikehart has delivered himself many times — the phrasing a little different, perhaps, but the message the same. It’s also one that IU business researcher Jerry Conover has articulated in the newspaper on a fairly regular basis.

We’re paraphrasing, but it goes something like this: It’s no longer the Indiana of the mid-20th century, when very well-paid factory jobs awaited Hoosiers straight from high school. Who needed more than high school (and often not even that) to secure a comfortable spot in the middle class? Sure, it was hard work, but it paid so well, with factory workers often earning more than college grads. And with an almost-guaranteed job for life, or at least until age 65, the retirement age back then, why sweat it?

Such is no longer the case. Those jobs are gone or require skills and knowledge beyond high school, often well beyond. And too many Hoosiers haven’t understood that. Or if they have, they often don’t have the means to gain the necessary tools, or even access to those tools, that will allow them to escape this new reality of low-paid service jobs that won’t hold your place in the middle class.

Our visitors pointed to a map they’d brought along that outlined the Indiana Work Council’s Region 8, an eight-county area including Monroe and surrounding counties. Bold numbers on each county showed the percentage of the adult population of working age who have gone on to earn at least a two-year post-high school degree. Monroe’s number: 51.71 percent. The rest ranged from 16.2 percent in Owen County up to 28.31 percent in Brown. Monroe — with a national university and a large and fast growing community college — is clearly an oasis of educational riches while surrounding counties are parched.

This, the people from Ivy Tech pointed out, is the pattern across the state, a few oases surrounded by counties that are withering in terms of higher education — a commodity that is absolutely critical to success in the 21st century global job market.

And, of course, they see their own institution as the gateway to that education and as a major direct provider of post-secondary training that can make today’s workers adaptable as new needs develop and current skills go out of date.

And they are correct.

Ivy Tech, which only became a community college system in 2005, putting Indiana almost a half century behind most other states, is a lifeline for children of families with few financial resources. Its development of close relationships with Indiana’s public four-year colleges and universities and the transferability of credit hours means that students who attend Ivy Tech their first two years, then transfer to a four-year school, pay only about a third the per-credit-hour cost those first two years than they would at a four-year school.

It also is the place to catch up for both those who require remediation in the basics and for returning adult students who realize their futures depend on how well they adapt to the needs of the 21st century. It also serves industry and those who work for those industries with specialized training in particular tasks.

The picture is one that approaches crisis. It is essential the public and the state recognize that and support Ivy Tech’s needs. The community college is now working to create or strengthen partnerships with high schools across the state to develop an integrated network that more naturally leads from high school to post high school education, where high schoolers can earn Ivy Tech credit for certain courses while still in high school — and at no cost.

Only two other states — West Virginia and Pennsylvania — have a higher proportion of their populations who have no more than a high school diploma. We rank 40th among the 50 states in the percentage of the adult working population who hold at least associate degrees. That’s not good enough. Ivy Tech and the larger state university system are crucial in the fight to improve that ranking.

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