After growing its enrollment 75 percent the last decade, Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana is shifting its focus to student retention.
A top administrator also wants to expand the number of training courses offered at businesses, as a way to supplement the system's $253 million annual budget. Some who've studied the state's educational system have recommended that Ivy Tech spend more to hire additional full-time faculty to strengthen its effectiveness.
The school's five-year student retention plan calls for doubling the percentage of students who actually complete their degree and certificate programs.
The plan calls for accelerated remediation for students not yet up to the college level, and for using technology and workplacebased instruction to help retain students who often work full time. Also core to the plan are a number of measurable goals to hold officials accountable for progress.
The aspects of the five-year plan "are ambitious for any college," concedes Carol D'Amico, Ivy Tech's executive vice president.
Perhaps the challenge is even tougher at Ivy Tech, which has 73,000 students enrolled at 23 locations statewide.
The share of first-time, full-time freshmen returning the following fall semester was 46 percent in 2001 vs. a nationwide average of 54.1 percent, according to the 2004 Report of the Subcommittee on Higher Education for the Indiana Government Efficiency Commission.
The report also showed that the percentage of associate degree students who graduated within three years was 26.6-below the 30-percent national average.
Where Ivy Tech has excelled is at boost- ing enrollment, which is up 75 percent in the last 10 years. The system has added new facilities, including an information technology center in Terre Haute, an expanded Evansville campus and new facilities in Richmond and Valparaiso.
Last December, Community College Week ranked Ivy Tech's central Indiana campus as the nation's fastest-growing community college among institutions with an enrollment of at least 10,000. Enrollment at the Indianapolis campus grew 23 percent in 2003-2004, to 14,000.
Helping drive growth was a realization by state leaders that the community college system needed to play a bigger role in economic development. Indiana is top-heavy in undergraduates at full-time public research and doctoral granting schools, but the state's enrollment at public two-year schools is below the national average.
"The higher education system overall is strongly oriented to producing graduates at the baccalaureate level while the state's capacity at the community college level to prepare highly skilled technicians for a changing economy is significantly underdeveloped," said authors of the 2004 report.
Ivy Tech President Jerry Lamkin has worked hard to grow the college, particularly through outreach to the business community, said David Holt, vice president of work-force development policy at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.
"He grew it really quickly without having a lot of management procedures in place," said Holt, adding that Lamkin has tapped D'Amico to balance the equation.
She served previously as President George Bush's assistant secretary of education for vocational and adult education.
D'Amico said one reason Ivy Tech students don't complete their programs is that many are unprepared for post-secondary education. About 80 percent of Ivy Tech students need at least one remedial course-English or math, she said. "A very high percentage of our students who come to us are not ready for college."
She said high school curriculum often has not been calibrated to prepare students for college-level requirements, putting that burden on Ivy Tech. But some students have taken too long to complete remediation.
"We want to accelerate that. We don't want them to spend two or three years in remediation," she said.
Another way the system could boost its completion rate is by making better use of technology. Already, 40 percent of coursework can be taken online and "we need to accelerate that."
D'Amico said a number of students might persevere to complete their degrees if they didn't have to commute to campus. About 75 percent of Ivy Tech's students attend school part time, sandwiching studies between work and family obligations.
Already, Ivy Tech offers courses within some workplaces, such as its logistics specialty in business administration, taught at Pearson Education and at FedEx facilities in Indianapolis. And Ivy Tech has offered a business Spanish course for employees of Teachers Credit Union.
In all, Ivy Tech said it served 2,090 companies with training services statewide in its last academic year.
Videoconferencing is another method being looked at.
Income from specialized instruction offered to employers could go a ways toward meeting broader goals. Although Ivy Tech received a $10 million increase in funding from the Legislature, it isn't counting on more support.
The school's central Indiana district raised nearly $1 million from businessrelated income last year and could more than double that through new programs, D'Amico said. Some of those programs involve refresher-type courses, such as one for nurses who've not practiced in years, and a number of information technology certifications.
The 2004 Indiana Government Efficiency study gave Ivy Tech a "B+" in customized training and rapid-response workforce development efforts.
On the other end of the equation, Ivy Tech officials are looking for ways to reduce costs. One idea under study is group purchasing of materials by the various campuses around the state.
"We're looking at where we can gain those efficiencies and then pour the money from those operational efficiencies into instruction," D'Amico said.
Already, Ivy Tech has in the works new programs to address growing sectors of the state economy, such as motorsports management, community emergency preparedness and health information management.
While Ivy Tech traditionally has tapped outsiders to teach its courses-a throwback to its roots as a technical school-it still needs to attract more full-time faculty, observers said.
Full-time instructors "are the ones who are thinking about the curriculum and students on a full-time basis," said Gus Watanabe, retired chief scientist at Eli Lilly and Co. and an author of the 2004 report on Indiana's higher education system.
"To have very few of those, you don't have that core there to support the entire program ... . We don't yet have a fully developed, robust community college system," Watanabe added.