After deducting one-time expenses for Ivy Tech Bloomington, its budget is increasing by a modest 1.7 percent for the coming year.

Its enrollment is also growing. That growth is more substantial, with a 6.8 percent increase predicted for fall’s enrollment, not quite as rapid a growth rate as in the previous year — that was 7.3 percent — but still significant.

With today’s enrollment of more than 6,500, the Bloomington campus has grown dramatically, as has the statewide Ivy Tech system, with a current enrollment of about 130,000, counting full and part-time students who attend one of its 23 campuses. That makes it the largest higher education institution in the state.

Indiana University, with its main campus in Bloomington and seven regional campuses is in second place. Its total enrollment in the fall of last year was about 102,000, more than 40,000 of that number attending IU Bloomington.

IU’s enrollment has stabilized over the past decade, as have most of the other four-year institutions in the state, all of them mature campuses. Ivy Tech, on the other hand, has grown dramatically over that time, more than doubling its enrollment.

Certainly, cost is a significant factor in such rapid growth. Ivy Tech’s cost per credit hour is about $125. At IU Bloomington, a credit hour for a full-time student is more than double that.

And while most students at four-year schools such as IU Bloomington live away from home, a lot of Ivy Tech Community College students are commuters, with significantly smaller living expenses.

But cost is almost certainly not the only factor driving students to Ivy Tech.

Perhaps the message is finally getting through to Hoosier families and young people that, just as a few decades ago a high school diploma was essential not only to land that first job but to move forward in the world, post-secondary education is critical today if you’re to have any real chance to climb up the income ladder.

There is a long way to go in this state. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 86 percent of Hoosiers 25 or older had a high school diploma in 2009, ranking the state 29th among the 50 states, only middling at best.

But only 22.5 percent of those 25 or older held a bachelor’s degree or higher. That ranked Indiana 43rd among the states, an alarming spot to occupy.

Over the past half-decade of recession and creeping recovery, even those with freshly minted degrees have struggled to move into the middle class.

Change has come fast in the 21st century and promises only to speed up as we move forward. Education can no longer stop at high school or even after that first degree. Ivy Tech Community College is an essential bridge, not only to education beyond an associate degree, but to a means to stay a step ahead, or even to keep up.

The Herald-Times

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.