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 degrees.
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.”