Ivy Tech’s new president eyes plan to boost skilled workers

Former Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann says she'll focus on ways to boost Indiana's skilled workforce as she tackles her new role as president of Ivy Tech Community College.

Ellspermann, who was chosen last month to head the statewide system, will step into that role July 1. She faces a daunting task at Ivy Tech, which has drawn scrutiny for low graduation rates and declining enrollment under outgoing President Tom Snyder, who had led the system's more than 30 campuses since 2007.

Ellspermann said that aside from working to boost those graduation rates, she'll be focusing on what employers need in skilled workers, and work toward a system that prepares students for those jobs.

"Every county I went to, I heard employers begging for skilled workers," Ellspermann said last week during a visit to Ivy Tech's Columbus campus. "We (Ivy Tech) are the biggest machine the state has for creating that skilled workforce."

She said she's already identified some practices at the Columbus campus she hopes to expand statewide in an effort to encourage students to complete their degrees and enable them to seek jobs as skilled laborers, The Republic reported (http://bit.ly/1TZYd7r ).

Ellspermann cited that campus' existing credit-transferring partnerships as examples of what she'd like the statewide system to aspire to in the future. Columbus' Ivy Tech campus has credit transfer options available with Indiana University and Purdue University's joint Columbus campus, the Purdue Polytechnic Institute and Trine University.

She said the Trine University partnership is compelling because it allows Columbus students to earn a four-year degree from Trine without having to make the roughly three-hour trip to the Angola campus of that four-year school.

"We look for that to become more of the norm instead of the exception across the state," she said. "We have to see ourselves as a seamless higher education system across the state."

Ellspermann, 56, spent the past three and a half years as lieutenant governor in Republican Gov. Mike Pence's administration. She stepped down in March as the state's second-in-command as Pence was gearing up for a tough re-election against former Democratic House Speaker John Gregg.

Former state Republican Party chairman Eric Holcomb succeeded her as lieutenant governor.

Although she won't become Ivy Tech's president until July 1, Ellspermann said she'll spend June traveling to its 14 regions to acquaint herself with the programs and practices unique to each.

The Indiana General Assembly recently commissioned the Indiana Department of Workforce Development to research demand-driven data on the skills that state industry leaders are looking for in their employees. That data is expected to be released later this summer and will be used to determine which initiatives Ivy Tech should pursue.

Questions over Ivy Tech's low graduation rates and a 25 percent enrollment drop over the past three years prompted state legislators last year to put the college's construction plans on hold.

State reports last year showed 5.2 percent of full-time Ivy Tech students completed an associate degree within two years, with 27.7 percent finishing within six years. For part-time students, 2.1 percent graduated within two years and 20.8 percent did so in six years.

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

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