The path to Sue Ellspermann’s appointment as president of Ivy Tech Community College has not been pretty. Politics—real or perceived—overshadowed the selection.
The former lieutenant governor resigned her elected post to vie for a position that would be chosen by a board appointed by Ellspermann’s former running mate, Gov. Mike Pence. The board voted unanimously to hire Ellspermann on May 18 over 30 other candidates, insisting along the way that politics played no part in the decision.
Again, not pretty. There’s no other way to put it.
But Ellspermann is no slouch and we think she’s a good fit for a job that will require finesse in political circles as well as academic ones.
She comes to the job not only with state government experience (she served as a state lawmaker, too) but plenty of educational and private-sector chops as well.
Ellspermann earned a doctoral degree in industrial engineering at the University of Louisville and served as founding director of the Center for Applied Research and Economic Development at the University of Southern Indiana. She has classroom experience teaching at USI, Louisville and the University of Evansville. She also worked in industrial engineering at Frito-Lay in Dallas.
So Ellspermann certainly brings a unique combination of skills and experiences to a job that has considerable challenges in all those areas.
The Ivy Tech board, lawmakers and the business community are looking to Ellspermann to overhaul a $500 million system that serves 170,000 students annually in more than 75 communities across Indiana, making it by far the largest post-secondary system in the state.
Despite the school’s reach—or perhaps in part because of it—only about 3 percent of Ivy Tech students complete a degree “on time” (two years for an associate’s degree), according to the 2015 Indiana College Completion Report from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.
Only about 17 percent of full-time Ivy Tech students complete a degree on campus within six years. (The rate climbs to one-quarter when adding in those who transfer to other schools.) And the numbers are worse for part-time students—about half of Ivy Tech’s student body.
Even the outgoing President Tom Snyder, who announced his retirement after nine years in the job, acknowledged the problems. “The legacy I leave behind is, there’s a lot of work to be done,” Snyder told the Associated Press.
Ellspermann acknowledged that even as she accepted the position, saying, “We have a lot of work to do if we’re going to meet the needs here in Indiana.” And she talked about “blowing barriers out of the way” to help faculty and staff implement change.
We welcome that energy. Too many businesses in Indiana can’t find skilled employees. In the trades and the tech sector and advanced manufacturing, companies are desperate for workers.
But with a system so broad and so diverse, Ivy Tech needs a strong leader at the helm, someone willing to force change and insist on higher standards. We believe Sue Ellspermann can be that leader. And we look forward to President Ellspermann’s proving us right.•
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