A Quarter of Indiana’s Community College Facilities Could Face Closure

Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana started in 1963 as a vocational technical school in Indiana (the name derives from I. V. Tech), and in 1999 the school became a comprehensive community college as described at Inside Higher Ed in 2008.

Ivy Tech (at one time known as Indiana Vocational Technical College) had long focused on vocational and technical education, and it joined with Vincennes University in 1999 in an effort to build a system of two-year colleges that would focus on general education and transfer as well as technical training. That partnership largely fell apart in 2004, though, and Ivy Tech became the sole sponsor of the community college effort.

The state of Indiana had lacked a community college system, and regional campuses that were part of Purdue University or Indiana University offered many two-year associates degrees. Despite an effort from state officials to move two-year degrees to community colleges, the four-year colleges resisted this effort.

And by and large, the transition did not occur. Despite the (vague) language in the proclamation [from 2001], part of a broader “Campus Compact” in which the Indiana Commission on Higher Education sought to improve coordination among state colleges, relatively little changed. The declaration said that four-year institutions could continue to offer a small number of degrees that were consistent with their missions, and Indiana’s regional four-year campuses clung ferociously to associate degrees that brought them students and the associated tuition revenue that came with them.

Finally, in 2008 the vast majority of associate’s degrees for the state of Indiana were shifted to Ivy Tech, which was on a path to expansion. Paul Fain concluded:

The agreement on associate degrees and the broader partnership will allow Ivy Tech to grow to meet the demands of state residents who are seeking access to higher education; its projections show its enrollment of credit students growing to 130,000 in 2010 from 111,205 in 2006-7. Total enrollment is expected to reach 175,000 by 2010.

And in exchange for giving up most of their two-year degrees, Indiana’s regional campuses are expected to gain more support from state higher education officials to offer graduate programs in fields such as teaching, nursing and social work where they can document a need for more workers, says Sandy [assistant executive vice president at Indiana University].

Plus if Ivy Tech’s ambitious plans for expansion succeed in producing more graduates with associate degrees, many more students will seek to transfer into IU’s regional campuses, to “more than make up for any credit hours they lost,” he says.

With the transition in place, Ivy Tech did continue to expand in terms of enrollment, to the point where they reached 175,000 students in 2011, just one year later than expected. The school also boasts of 32,000 students in online courses. From the school web site:

Ivy Tech Enrollment trends

On the surface, Ivy Tech has been considered a success story to date. The state of Indiana has finally created a community college system that has transfer agreements with the four-year colleges, and Ivy Tech has surged in terms of enrollment, at least through 2011. But there is trouble brewing, in terms of financial management, student success rates, and public fighting with the state.

Today came the big news that Ivy Tech may have to close a quarter of its campuses, from Inside Higher Ed.

College officials say state funding has failed to keep pace with enrollment, which hit 166,000 students last year. The system is now wrestling with how to close a $68 million funding gap, including the possible closure of up to 20 of its 76 campus locations.

“We’ve done all the painless things we can do,” said Thomas J. Snyder, Ivy Tech’s president.

How did a large state community college system come to this point? President Snyder is clearly using the potential closures to make his case that the issue is state funding.

For his part, Snyder said he’s also surprised that Ivy Tech is facing a fiscal hole this deep. But for years he has warned the state’s leaders about the gap between state appropriations and how much it costs the college to educate students.

Ivy Tech’s requested level of state support has long been $3,500 per student (the total cost of education per student is $4,665). Yet the state’s current contribution is $2,543, which is up from a $2,198 the previous year. Even before the recession, state funding did not reach Ivy Tech’s target levels.

In addition, the college receives little money from the state for its facilities. The system built or expanded 17 campuses without state support. And only 23 campuses receive capital funding, Snyder said.

State officials are pushing back on this explanation.

The state has recently ramped up its spending on higher education, including Ivy Tech. Teresa Lubbers, Indiana’s commissioner for higher education and a former state senator, said Ivy Tech received a $28 million, or 7.5 percent, increase in state support compared to the previous biennium.

“We saw the highest increase in higher education funding in Indiana in three decades,” Lubbers said.

There are also big questions about how successfully Ivy Tech is educating its students, as described in the Indy Star.

Only 4 percent of Ivy Tech’s full-time students graduate on time, according to state data. Less than a quarter of them finish within six years.

In a recent study of more than 30 participating states, Indiana ranked last in two-year public institution completion rates.

Ivy Tech administrators take issue with the state’s calculations, but even they say they need to improve.

“Are we doing this as well as we can as a system?” asked Ivy Tech President Tom Snyder. “No.”

Snyder acknowledges that Ivy Tech — unique in its statewide community college role doesn’t stack up to similar institutions across the country. Yet it’s an issue that Ivy Tech largely skims over as it jockeys for more public funds to cover a $68 million deficit. [snip]

Ivy Tech disputes the state’s numbers as a method for evaluating its success. The state reports that just 4 percent of Ivy Tech students graduate on time, 13 percent in three years, 18 percent in four years and 23 percent in six years.

Those numbers track “first-time, full-time” students who finish at Ivy Tech or any other Indiana institution.

But Ivy Tech says that’s not representative of its student body. Many full-time students still require remediation, shift to part-time or transfer — all obstacles to on-time completion.

What about completion data that doesn’t come from the two arguing parties? From the Indy Star:

Other measurements of Ivy Tech’s performance, however, are less forgiving. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, with funding from the Lumina Foundation, released a report earlier this year on college completion. Of the states contributing data, Indiana ranked last in six-year completion rates for students at public two-year institutions.

• Compared with the national average of 36.29 percent, Indiana graduated just 18.36 percent of its students at two-year institutions. That includes students who were enrolled full time, part time or a mix of both.

• Want to talk transfers? Students who went on to complete four-year degrees: 7.74 percent.

• Part-time students mostly failed to finish: Fewer than 7 percent of exclusively part-time students in Indiana two-year institutions finished degrees or certificates, compared with more than 18 percent nationally.

• After six years, 3 of 5 students dropped out. One in 5 was still enrolled in college. That leaves 1 of 5 (that 18.3 percent) who earned degrees.

To put it bluntly, this situation is a disaster. We have college and state officials pointing fingers at each other while an entire state’s community college population – the students – are being underserved, and the situation is about to get worse. Who is right about the blame – Ivy Tech or state officials? It might be that both are right to blame the other. This situation has not been caused by a single culprit, but this situation illustrates the systemic problems facing public higher education.

As Vicky Phillips pointed out in our Google+ discussion:

Poor internal management married up with decades of external pressure and infighting to create this mess.

Like many public institutions Ivy Tech was in no way prepared to meet the demands and stresses of rapid growth.

It’s irrational. Publicly funded institutions do not know how to compete and grow in today’s marketplace. Record demand is there for Ivy Tech programs, but to manage an exploding system like this requires keen fiscal skills + the ability to respond to rapid growth using an irrational and outdated funding system tied to the legislature and very local and regional loyalties.

This is the number one reason private, for-profit education is exploding — the state schools were never chartered to grow or respond to consumer demand (you see this in California also). They literally canNOT catch their fiscal breathe under an antiquated public funding system. Demand is surging at the same time public funding and support are dwindling at record paces.

Ivy Tech is a case study of many of the back-breaking issues facing higher education today.

I think that Vicky is right in her analysis. This is not to argue that public higher education should get out of the way, it is simply a description of what is happening. Public higher education has systemic issues preventing many states from serving the students who most need low-cost, accessible college degrees. The Ivy Tech saga provides a case study and warning for other states. To address student demand, we need to change funding models, improve institutional management, and help students complete their degrees and not just enroll. These challenges won’t be solved by pointing fingers and looking for single culprits.

Update 6/29: Changed title to “A Quarter of Indiana’s Community College Facilities Could Face Closure” to be more accurate

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About Phil Hill

Phil is a consultant and industry analyst covering the educational technology market primarily for higher education. He has written for e-Literate since Aug 2011. For a more complete biography, view his profile page.
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3 Responses to A Quarter of Indiana’s Community College Facilities Could Face Closure

  1. tom abeles says:

    hi phil

    No one takes a step back to see if they are on the right track!!

    First, there is an admitted problem with graduates of secondary schools. No one is looking at the success of those students who go to the private post secondary institutions, many of which are vocationally oriented where some of those programs result in net income of graduates which exceed many public post secondary professional degrees including teachers.

    Secondly the government push is for the public instituions because, at the meta level, their interests are mixed, the same as those institutions which originally had, for example, a non-secular origin. Basically, the purpose is to have skills to earn a living and to have an orientation towards the values of the underlying sponsor. In other words, while on the surface, the idea, for example, in the US, is to create an informed citizen but within socio-political boundaries while obtaining job skills. As we are seeing globally, without “jobs” or prospects the socio/cultural frame becomes shaky- a phenomenon we are seeing in the US other than in certain medallion institutions, and even this is being challenged.

    Third, the post secondary institutions have their own problems as the world is changing. Much of the knowledge which was considered as locked within the walls of the Ivory Tower has now leaked out (much being delivered in the CC’s such as IVY). The internet makes this visible. It also creates cognitive dissonance amongst the faculty as they may understand but do not acknowledge. The basics which have leaked are able to be supported at much lower cost than provided by the hegemonic world of tenured faculty. Incidentally, tenure?- based on publications? That arena is also under stress as the world starts to realize that there is a difference between scholarly publications and academic publications, again, an area under similar economic pressures.

    As the recent book reviews in the NYT of both Bennet’s and Selingo’s books indicates, the post secondary institutions and their faculty may be suffering the death of a thousand cuts by their own hands.

    I

  2. Beth says:

    Your headline is misleading. Indiana has only one community college (2 if you count Vincennes U). Plus Ivy Tech has clarified that they will not close and campuses–just considering closure of leased facilities where the do mostly non-credit training.

  3. Phil Hill says:

    Beth, fair point – I’ve updated the title.

    Tom, I agree with your point about “problem with graduates of secondary schools”. This is another aspect of the systemic problems of public higher ed.