The State Budget Committee on Wednesday gave the green light to $63 million in state funding for expansion projects at three Ivy Tech Community College campuses, but only after telling school administrators it wanted more involvement in the college’s finances.
The expansion projects, at Ivy Tech campuses in Anderson, Bloomington and Indianapolis, are coming at a time when the school is considering downsizing or closing some of its other programs around the state to make up for what school officials call a budget shortfall of about $78 million.
At the state budget committee Wednesday, Republican State Sen. Luke Kenley told Ivy Tech administrators that they were sending “mixed messages” by asking for more state money at the same time they were planning employee layoffs and looking at closing up to a quarter of their off-campus sites around the state.
“I don’t think Ivy Tech is a failing institution,” Kenley said, before adding that the perception among some legislators may be different because of fears that Ivy Tech programs in their communities are on the chopping block.
“You’ve got many legislators saying, ‘What gives here?’” said Kenley, who chairs the legislative budget committee by virtue of his powerful role as the Senate Appropriations Committee.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the budget committee approved Ivy Tech’s plans to spend $24 million to build a new 76,000-square foot facility in Anderson on 40 acres of land near Interstate 69. The land was donated to the college by the city of Anderson.
The committee also approved another $20 million for Ivy Tech to spend on expanding its campus in Bloomington, by adding new classrooms, offices, an auditorium and a wellness center. And it gave the go-ahead to a $23 million expansion at Ivy Tech’s Fall Creek campus near downtown Indianapolis.
But committee members also told Ivy Tech President Tom Snyder that they wanted to be more involved in the college’s future fiscal plan because of the critical role Ivy Tech needs to play to increase the number of college graduates in Indiana. The state now ranks in the bottom 10 states for adults with post-secondary degrees.
Snyder agreed, and told committee members that Ivy Tech had no intent of reducing its critical role as a statewide community college providing low-cost education and training to millions of Hoosiers who can’t afford – or don’t want – the traditional four-year degree from one of the state’s more costly residential universities.
“For many people, community colleges are still the pathway to the middle class,” Snyder said.
Enrollment at Ivy Tech has grown by more than 50 percent in the past six years, at nearly 200,000 students, making it the largest public post-secondary institution in the state. It has 31 campuses in the state, for which it receives direct state funding, but it also offers classes in more than 40 other communities, for which it receives much less state money.
The rapid growth, with programs or campuses in most of Indiana’s 92 counties, has presented major challenges. The school has what Ivy Tech Snyder described as a $78 million shortfall – money that it doesn’t have but needs to spend to upgrade equipment, expand classroom facilities, and hire more academic advising and guidance staff.
Snyder told budget committee members that Ivy Tech has already consolidated its administration offices, and that school officials are conducting a cost-benefit analysis this summer of all its sites that operate through lease agreements without state support. Snyder also said he expects there will be a round of employee layoffs announced within the next week.
Ivy Tech has also come under criticism for its low on-time graduation rate; only 4 percent of its students complete an associate degree within two years of enrolling. But Snyder said most Ivy Tech students don’t take a full load of classes because they have to work or raise families.
Ivy Tech became a statewide community college in 2005, taking over the role of other universities’ regional campuses as the state’s provider of associate degrees and handling most of the remediation programs for high school graduates not ready to go on to college.
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for CNHI, the Tribune-Star’s parent company. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamedia