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Officials turn up call for 2-year degrees: State putting emphasis on higher education options

June 9, 2008

State and local leaders are turning up the amp on the importance of higher education, but they're also trying to tune students into the message that being college-educated doesn't have to mean spending four years at a university.

In recent weeks, both Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels have loudly proclaimed the state's need for more workers with twoyear degrees.

While government officials have long said the state needs a more educated work force to attract business, the recent proclamations are honing in on a specific level of education and calling Ivy Tech Community College an integral partner.

Ballard said there is a severe shortage of college graduates in Indiana, and the twoyear programs offered by Ivy Tech provide a good way to fill some of the void.

While the special training that many businesses provide their workers is good, a degree from the state's only community college carries more weight, said Nick Weber, deputy mayor for the city of Indianapolis.

"A degree from a school like Ivy Tech is valuable because it gives an employer a certain sense of confidence that the worker has a third-party education," Weber said. "Companies can offer great in-house training, but that doesn't help a worker who moves to another job or has a spouse who is relocated. Workers need portable knowledge and skills."

To that end, Daniels wants to make postsecondary education more affordable for most Indiana families. He is proposing to guarantee two years of paid tuition at Ivy Tech or the equivalent amount at another college or university to families at or below the median income levels. Tuition for a two-year degree at Ivy Tech averages about $6,000.

Daniels hasn't specifically outlined his proposal or how it would be funded, but one option could be leasing a portion of the Hoosier Lottery's management to a private company for an upfront sum.

"We have a very disproportionate number of students with [four]-year degrees," said Derek Redelman, vice president of education and work-force development with the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

Work-force development officials have done a good job of conveying the message that entry into the work force is incredibly difficult for those with just a high school degree, Redelman said. But the message doesn't always spell out the options.

"We've long lumped all that into saying workers need a college degree, but we confuse that with meaning only a fouryear degree," he said. "So, people think we're advocating four-year-degreed workers, but I'd say we've got too many with four-year degrees. We need more with two-year degrees.

"For every PhD biochemist, for example, I'm sure there are multiple people in the technician role who work with that biochemist. A lot of associate-degree-level technicians do a lot of the work."

Alarming numbers

The call for two-year-degreed workers comes in the wake of an education-attainment report that some call staggering. A recent Chamber report found that 930,000 Hoosier workers are underprepared for the work force.

"This could slow our growth as a state," Tom Snyder, president of Ivy Tech, said of the shortage of workers.

About 36 percent of Indiana adults ages 25-64-651,609 people-have completed high school but have no college experience.

Such statistics are a warning sign for businesses eyeing Indiana.

"Nothing is more important to a business thinking about coming here as the quality of the work force," Redelman said.

Ivy Tech must increase the awareness that all kids can go to college, Snyder said. So, among other initiatives, the college is trying to boost its exposure at public high schools with posters and signs to foster the mind-set that college is attainable.

Ivy Tech, which offers more than 50 two-year degree programs on its Indianapolis campus alone, recently entered into an agreement with Indiana University to offer even more.

The agreement between the two schools is intended to eliminate duplication of twoyear degrees as a way to make higher education more affordable and accessible.

The pact makes Ivy Tech the primary provider of two-year associate degrees across the state; IU will focus on four-year and graduate degrees as it eliminates current associate degree programs that overlap with Ivy Tech.

"We've been blessed for decades with great manufacturing jobs," Snyder said. "Thirty years ago, workers didn't need skills beyond high school. We're a culture of not going to college."

That culture needs to change, Snyder and others say, as more and more jobs in health care, education and technology come online.

On average, individuals with a two-year degree make about $10,000 more annually than a worker with only a high school education, according to the Chamber report. Individuals with a bachelor's degree make $11,000 more than those with an associate degree.

Nurses, post-secondary teachers and computer software engineers are near the top of the list of Hoosier Hot 50 Jobs released by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

Those jobs require at least a two-year degree, but other industries are ready to hire many workers with two-year certificates.

Service industry jobs

The hospitality industry, for instance, is set to grow in Indianapolis thanks to the expanded Indiana Convention Center and the numerous hotels going up downtown.

Lori Parish could be the poster child for the state's push for more two-year-degreed workers and Ivy Tech's part in boosting their numbers.

Parish, 31, received an associate of applied science degree in baking and pastry arts and has parlayed that into a position of human resources manager for Indianapolis-based Steak n Shake.

Waking up one morning a few years ago and deciding she wanted work in the hospitality field, Parish said she chose Ivy Tech because of the cost and location.

"For me, I saw the hospitality industry as stability," Parish said. "Hospitality is very competitive, but there is always a need for hospitality."

And there's always going to be the need for someone to run a business in this industry, she said.

So, after landing a job making pastries at the Country Club of Indianapolis, Parish decided her degree could get her even further and began thinking about roles in management.

Taking what she calls a giant leap, she entered the management training program at Steak n Shake and, less than a year after completing it, was running her own store in Brownsburg. Two years ago, she advanced to her current position of human resources manager. She now looks to hire two-year-degreed workers herself for management positions.

"I can't tell you how valuable people with two-year degrees are," Parish said. "In the past, we've focused on four-year degrees because that's just what the industries sought."

But these days, a student with a fouryear degree is looking for a different kind of job than those found in hospitality, Parish said.

Steak n Shake began recruiting on Ivy Tech campuses a year ago, something the restaurant chain had never done before.

"That's where students are who actually want to be in this industry," said Parish, who added that they seek interns from the college as well. "We're building our presence on that campus."

Parish is sure her initial thoughts about college mirror those of young people today. Officials like Snyder, Ballard and Daniels are trying to turn that mind-set around.

"When I was young, I never thought I'd go to college," she explained. "Without my degree, I wouldn't be where I am now."
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