Brakes put on Ivy Tech construction amid questions

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Ivy Tech Community College's construction plans have been put on hold and it will face a state review of its programs over concerns about low graduation rates and declining enrollment.

Ivy Tech was the only one of Indiana's public colleges that didn't receive money for any major building projects in the new two-year state budget that takes effect July 1. Legislators also included a provision in the budget bill that requires the Indiana Commission for Higher Education to review Ivy Tech programs with low graduation rates and allows the commission to order restructuring or elimination of those programs.

The steps come after a 25-percent drop in Ivy Tech's enrollment over the past three years and a state report showing that fewer than 30 percent of its students complete a certificate or associate's degree program within six years.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said he has many questions about Ivy Tech's effectiveness a decade after it took over running the state's community college program.

"I'm just calling for a timeout here to make sure we know where we're going," Kenley said. "Why should we be building more projects when we're not sure that we're succeeding in what we're doing?"

The new state budget allocates money to Indiana's six other colleges for at least one major construction project. It doesn't include the $25 million that Ivy Tech requested toward a new classroom building and renovations at its Muncie campus or the $23 million the college sought for its portion of a planned Evansville medical school campus for which Indiana University and the University of Southern Indiana received funding.

Tom Snyder, Ivy Tech's president since 2007, said legislators have filled many of the school's project requests over the past decade, allowing it to largely move from the abandoned schools and former retail stores that it occupied in many communities during the years when it primarily offered vocational training programs.

Snyder said he hoped the state review of current programs will lead to a better assessment of its degree-completion rates and would take into account that only about 6 percent of students attend full time. Many transfer to four-year colleges before finishing a two-year associate degree at Ivy Tech, he said.

"We think that it's going to get these issues on the table and help us understand them," Snyder said.

State Commission for Higher Education reports show 5.2 percent of full-time Ivy Tech students complete an associate degree within two years, with 27.7 percent finishing within six years. For part-time students, 2.1 percent graduate within two years and 20.8 percent do so in six years.

Snyder said helping students complete courses they need in order to transfer to a four-year university is one of Ivy Tech's primary missions and that thousands of its students do so each year.

"On retention, they look like a failure," he said. "Because retention doesn't distinguish whether they transferred or quit. This will clear the air a lot."

Before its recent decline, Ivy Tech had seen enrollment at its more than 30 campuses boom by about 70 percent in seven years, reaching a peak of some 110,000 students attending at least part time in the fall of 2011.

Snyder said much of the drop has come from older students being unable to afford tuition and taking available jobs.

David Baime, vice president for government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges, said community college enrollment across the country has dropped about 3 percent each of the last two years and that graduation rates don't reflect the different mission of such schools.

"We have this fight all the time — the fight that is against misperceptions about institutional effectiveness," Baime said.

Not all is glum for Ivy Tech, however. The state budget appropriates increases of about 4 percent in each of the next two years for operating expenses and $6 million for repair projects.

Kenley said the school has gone through a great deal of change as state leaders revamped its mission and that it is time to reassess.

"I'm concerned that we're not hitting the mark," he said. "It's been a pretty turbulent time for Ivy Tech in the last 10 years. They've had an awful lot of enrollment growth, and now we're having an enrolment decline."

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