Business school outgrows Indiana

April 27, 2009
With enrollment surging in vocational schools around the country, Indiana Business College has launched an expansion into Ohio and likely into other states as well.

And the Indianapolis-based for-profit school is changing its name—to Harrison College, with a nod toward two U.S. presidents with Hoosier ties.

Executives of the privately owned college informed staff and students of the changes April 22. They now will launch a nearly $2 million marketing campaign to tout the new name.

"To me, it's the perfect storm," said Harrison College CEO Ken Konesco. The school added cooking, veterinary and nursing programs just before the economy sank. The result has been an enrollment explosion.

"We've probably had the most explosive growth in the last three years than in any of my 23 years here," Konesco added.

Harrison has broken ground on a school in Grove City, Ohio—a suburb just south of Columbus. Harrison chose that area because of its similarity to Indianapolis.

But the college also wants to open one campus a year for the next three to five years. Possible locations include Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland and other major Midwestern cities.

Schools like Harrison have boomed right as the rest of the economy went bust because laid-off workers flooded back to school to acquire new skills.

New student enrollment spiked 58 percent at Harrison in the past year. Total enrollment has grown nearly 43 percent in the past two years, to 5,000.

As with most career and technical schools, online enrollment has been the fastest driver of growth. It now accounts for one out of every five Harrison students.

Carmel-based ITT Educational Services Inc. added nearly 9,000 students last year alone. The for-profit vocational educator opened eight schools last year and plans to open as many more this year.

ITT Educational now serves more than 65,000 students at 106 campuses around the country.

Schools were doing well even before the recession deepened. In its 2007-2008 year, Ivy Tech Community College saw its student body top 120,000, for the first time passing Indiana University as the state's largest post-secondary system.

Some investors think the enrollment explosion is over. But others, such as Deutsche Bank analyst Paul Ginocchio, see at least another year of robust growth.

"We believe we have not yet reached peak growth and that the high-growth period will last longer than expected. This is due to the tight correlation between enrollment growth and the unemployment rate," Ginocchio wrote in an April 21 report on the for-profit education sector. "We are just now entering the juiciest part of the cycle for the group."

In March, Indiana's unemployment hit 10 percent, its highest level since November 1983. The national unemployment rate is 8.5 percent.

But Harrison College needs demand to stay high for several years to meet its full expansion plans. If it follows through with opening five campuses in the next five years, Harrison projects its student body could soar to 10,000 or more.

"The education sphere is unlimited," Konesco said.

Carol D'Amico, an adviser to the Indiana Department of Education on career and technical education, hopes Konesco is right.

"I want to believe that this [spike in demand] is a more fundamental phenomenon than just results of the current economic situation," said D'Amico, who also is a special adviser to Conexus Indiana, an Indianapolis-based manufacturing and logistics development group. "People are beginning to get it that the good-paying jobs take more than a high school diploma."

Indiana Business College has a 107-year history of training high school graduates for the business world.

It started in 1902 in Marion, as Marion Business College. By 1913, founder Charles Cring had set up a chain of schools around the state, so he changed the name to Indiana Business College.

Konesco and a business partner from Boston bought the school in 1986 and have owned it since.

Until the early 1990s, Indiana Business College focused primarily on secretarial training. But its founding of a health sciences school to train medical technicians and staff began a nearly 20-year broadening of its offerings.

In the past 10 years, it launched schools of information technology, criminal justice and veterinary technology, as well as a Chef's Academy and degrees in business management. Nearly half its students take classes partly or exclusively online.

Konesco, 62, said the secret to the college's success has been giving students skills that successfully land them new jobs. The school places 90 percent of its students within a year of graduation in jobs in the field they trained in.

But Konesco also stressed that the college's culture attracts employees and students. For the past two years, Indiana Business College landed on the "Best Places to Work in Indiana" list compiled by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

The challenge, of course, for Harrison is replicating its culture in other locations. It currently has 12 campuses in the state.

Classes will begin at the Ohio campus in September. Marc Konesco, the college's vice president for marketing and enrollment and son of the CEO, said that campus likely will have 50 to 75 students at the start, but as many as 500 within two years.

College leaders said they chose the name "Harrison" because it evoked ideas of leadership and heritage. Former U.S. President Benjamin Harrison was from Indiana and another former president, William Henry Harrison, had strong ties to the state.

"Indiana Business College has been a good foundation for us, but it's no longer who we are," Marc Konesco said.
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