INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana's community college system,
already grappling with a $68 million deficit, is facing scrutiny over its
graduation rates as it works to shore up its role as the linchpin needed
to close the state's skilled-worker gap.
Just 4 percent of students at Ivy Tech Community College graduate within
two years and only 23 percent earn diplomas in six years, according to
state data. And that's making state officials wary of pumping more money
into the system if the results don't improve.
"Is it a funding issue - or is it a completion issue?" said Marilee
Springer, Gov. Mike Pence's senior policy director. "We can keep driving
money in, but that money needs to lead to degree completion. I don't know
if more funding is the answer."
Ivy Tech leaders dispute the calculations, saying the state only counts
"first-time, full-time" students - which Ivy Tech administrators say is
not representative of the student body.
Ivy Tech says it guides about half of its students toward "success" within
six years - but that definition includes students who haven't completed
President Tom Snyder acknowledges that there's room for improvement and
that Ivy Tech falls behind similar institutions across the country.
"Are we doing this as well as we can as a system?" Snyder asked. "No."
But he contends that reduced funding will translate into fewer degrees.
Ivy Tech plans to redesign remediation programs, create clearer paths to
graduation and establish more one-year accelerated programs. The American
Association of Community Colleges is also developing a "voluntary
framework of accountability" to gauge community colleges' performances.
Education advocates say that's only a start.
"The first part of fixing a problem is, let's look at the problem we've
got and not be defensive about it," said Cheryl Orr Dixon, senior vice
president and chief of staff of Complete College America. "We are not
patient with people who want to explain away data."
Complete College America and the Lumina Foundation, which found Indiana
ranked last in six-year completion rates for students at public two-year
institutions, both agree students are at a higher risk of dropping out if
they take six years to finish a two-year degree. The groups support
encouraging students to take full-time class loads when possible. That
often means colleges need to make their classes available at better times.
"Some students perhaps need to go part-time, but going part-time is highly
correlated with never finishing," said Jim Applegate, Lumina's vice
president of strategic impact.
Snyder, the Ivy Tech president, said state leaders are ignoring the impact
of funding on completion rates. Ivy Tech is considering closing a quarter
of its facilities and is weighing administrative and staff layoffs to help
close its $68 million budget gap.
"There's a lag in understanding both at the general assembly level in each
state and at the federal level that I think will need to be addressed," he
Teresa Lubbers, Indiana's commissioner for higher education, said the
numbers have to change.
"We're nowhere close to where we need to be with completion," Lubbers
said. "I think all this means turning upside-down the delivery of
education at the community college, based on not what the institution has
been doing in the past but what the student needs now. These are stubborn
numbers to move. We have to be willing to try multiple new ways to do