Ivy Tech hopes for OK to expand in Bloomington

Elsewhere in the state, community college campuses are closing

By Mike Leonard331-4368 | mleonard@heraldt.com
June 26, 2013

The recent news that Ivy Tech Community College is considering the closure of as many as 20 of its smaller locations statewide caused consternation on the Bloomington campus — and not because anyone thinks Bloomington would be targeted.

The opposite holds true, actually. With enrollment that rocketed from 2,600 to 6,800 in just over a decade, Ivy Tech Chancellor John Whikehart’s concern is that financial troubles affecting the 14-region state system could again delay the $20 million construction project to increase the size of the Connie and Steve Ferguson Academic Building from 80,000 square feet to a 148,000-square-foot facility.

The addition would add some operating costs to the Bloomington campus but also erase the $460,000 the campus pays annually in leased space because the Ferguson building long ago exceeded its capacity.

Whikehart said his level of anxiety decreased last week after the Indiana Higher Education Commission followed up on legislative approval for the project by giving the green light to Bloomington’s phase two expansion without comment. “This is farther along in the process than we’ve ever been,” Whikehart said this week. “It’s been on the approval list for seven years but it’s never made it past the commission, so that’s a hopeful sign.”

State Budget Committee

The final step in the process is approval by the five-person State Budget Committee, which meets next on July 10. Committee Chairman Tim Brown said on Tuesday that financial and other concerns across the Ivy Tech system and Bloomington’s space needs are “like comparing apples and maybe walnuts.”

Brown, who also is the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in the Indiana House of Representatives, said there are enrollment concerns in some parts of the state and a degree completion rate that needs to be examined. “But if the Bloomington area can in their presentation to us provide good justification for their space needs and capital project, that is something we’ll consider separately from other issues,” said Brown, a Republican from Crawfordsville. “They’re in the budget. The money can be appropriated. There’s a process to be followed, and we’re doing just that.”

Former budget committee chairman and current member Rep. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, was more cautious. “I can’t speak for everybody on the budget committee, but I think we need to have a pretty good review with the state Ivy Tech with operating and capital project plans,” he said Tuesday. “It may be to their benefit to go ahead with their plans in Bloomington, but we need to get the air cleared on these other issues. They say they have a $68 million operating deficit. You can’t just build new buildings and operate them when you’re running a deficit. We need to understand how this is going to work.”

Ivy Tech President Tom Snyder said earlier this month that the statewide system is operating with a $68 million funding deficit and that is why the college is boosting tuition by $5 a semester and considering the closure of smaller learning centers that operate out of leased space. Ivy Tech’s 14 regions include 72 sites statewide where various classes and programs operate.

Less funding per student

Whikehart said he believes the term “deficit” is being misused. “Our funding has continued to lag behind, in terms of how rapidly we’ve grown and what we were told we’d receive with the original enrollment growth formula,” he said. “Our campus is receiving less money per student than we were when we were at the Westbury location (prior to opening the current westside location in 2002).”

In 2001, Ivy Tech Bloomington received $1,638 in state support for each full-time-equivalent student, making up 61 percent of its budget. In the current, 2012-13 fiscal year, the campus is receiving $709 per student from the state, and the revenue mix has flipped from 61 percent state-supported to 27 percent.

“This is what President Snyder is referring to when he described a deficit or gap,” Whikehart said. “And we get no credit whatsoever for preparing students for a four-year baccalaureate degree, which I very much consider success. Sixty percent of our students come here fully intending to transfer, and we put them on the path to success in achieving that goal. That is not recognized in the state performance funding formula.”

State wants more grads

The Bloomington chancellor said he has no problem at all with the state’s stated goal of raising its percentage of citizens with at least a two-year degree from the current 33 percent — below the national average of 38 percent — to 60 percent by 2025. He supports it.

“The problem is, we have these ambitious goals, and we’re not willing to pay for them,” Whikehart said. “You can’t keep decreasing the state contribution to the schools and expect us to deliver a quality education and do it without increasing costs.”

Whikehart said the problems go deeper than the investment in higher education.

“I know where the students are that are going to get us to 60 percent. They just finished second grade. If we can’t help them figure out how to access higher education, they can’t be in that group of graduates in 2025,” he said.

“I can understand how cutting taxes is an attractive tool to create a friendly business climate, but on the other hand, how do we get to that 60 percent attainment rate and have that educated work force that business wants if we don’t invest in education? We have policy issues that are in conflict.”

Whether Ivy Tech Bloomington gets approval for its building expansion — and knocks nearly a half-million dollars a year off its lease obligations — is anyone’s guess at this point. But the State Budget Committee’s Kenley said approval by the higher education commission is no rubber stamp.

“We just need to check signals to see what the whole situation is with Ivy Tech,” Kenley said. “My guess is we won’t have any answers on this until October or November — at the earliest.”

Bloomington Ivy Tech Chancellor John Whikehart greets students on the morning of the first day of classes in this Aug. 22, 2011, photo. Monty Howell | Herald-Times

John Whikehart

Copyright: HeraldTimesOnline.com 2013

About Ivy Tech Community College

Ivy Tech Community College is Indiana's largest public postsecondary institution and the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college system, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Ivy Tech has campuses throughout Indiana and also serves thousands of students annually online. It serves as the state's engine of workforce development, offering associate degrees, long- and short-term certificate programs, industry certifications, and training that aligns with the needs of the community. The College provides a seamless transfer to other colleges and universities in Indiana, as well as out of state, for a more affordable route to a bachelor's degree.