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National CrossTalk Fall 1999
News Editorial Other Voices Interview

News
5 of 5 Stories

Indiana's New Community College Plan
A state-mandated partnership between Ivy Tech and Vincennes University is seen by some as a shotgun marriage


By William Trombley

Vincennes, Indiana

  Vincennes University, Indiana's only public two-year college, will play a key role in that state's plan to expand community college opportunities.
  Vincennes University, Indiana's only public two-year college, will play a key role in that state's plan to expand community college opportunities.
   
AT THE CENTER of a controversial plan to create Indiana's first community college system stands Vincennes University, which is not, in fact, a "university" but a junior college, the oldest postsecondary institution in the state, with an attractive red brick campus that occupies 100 acres along the banks of the Wabash River, 125 miles southwest of Indianapolis.

This month, as part of a new state-mandated "coordinated partnership," Vincennes began to offer a sprinkling of liberal arts courses at four campuses of Ivy Tech State College, the state system of 23 two-year technical and vocational institutions.

More classes will be added next fall, and by July 2002, if the plan is carried out, Vincennes will be responsible for about 60 percent of the general education program on ten Ivy Tech campuses.

At present, Vincennes is the only comprehensive public community college in the state. When other states were building two-year colleges in the 1960s and '70s, Indiana did not. Veteran political observers say this was largely due to opposition from Indiana University and Purdue, the state's two major research universities.

As an alternative, both "IU" and Purdue opened regional campuses around the state, offering two-year associate degrees as well as bachelor's and advanced degrees. Indiana University has five of these, Purdue has two, and the two institutions jointly operate large campuses in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne. Ivy Tech also offers the associate degree, as well as certificates of competency in various technical and vocational fields.

But the state still ranks well below the national average in earned two-year degrees, which supporters of the new plan say are increasingly in demand by employers. At the bachelor's degree level, Indiana is above the national average among traditional college-age students but is 48th nationally in the percentage of adults (ages 22 to 49) who have earned bachelor's degrees.

"We think there are 30,000 to 80,000 adults who could be in higher education but are not," because of the lack of a community college system, said Stan Jones, Indiana commissioner for higher education, and the driving force behind the initiative. "This proposal is 30 years overdue."

"We have a low educational attainment rate in this state and we have to catch up if we want to remain economically viable," said Ken Sauer, deputy commissioner for research and academic affairs.

Efforts to increase the number of transfers from Ivy Tech campuses to Indiana University, Purdue and the state's other four-year public institutions have been unsuccessful, Jones and Sauer said, so it was time for a new approach.

Working quietly with legislators and Democratic Governor Frank O'Bannon's staff, Jones and his aides came up with the Ivy Tech-Vincennes partnership idea. The plan also calls for a tuition freeze for at least two years at Vincennes and Ivy Tech, while fees are expected to rise at public four-year schools.

Jones estimates the partnership will cost about $80 million in its tenth year, a small fraction of what he says will be a $2 billion public higher education budget by that time. But critics say the plan will cost much more than that.

O'Bannon proposed the community college initiative a year ago, after little public discussion, and it was approved by the legislature on the last day of the 1999 session.

The initiative has strong support not only from the governor and the state Commission for Higher Education but also from key leaders in both houses of the legislature. However, it does not have much backing from Ivy Tech or from the state's public universities, especially Indiana University. The presidents and governing boards of these institutions have supported the idea publicly, but privately officials have expressed many misgivings.

Along with several outside experts who have examined the plan, they question the ability of Vincennes University, a small two-year college in a remote part of the state (one that has suffered a dramatic enrollment decline, with resulting faculty layoffs, in recent years), to transform itself into a statewide provider of general education courses for Ivy Tech.

"The objective is correct–Indiana needs community colleges," said one of these experts, who asked not to be identified. "But this is the wrong way to go about it."

Jones said Vincennes was selected because "it is the only accredited two-year college in the state with a solid record of transferring liberal arts students" to four-year institutions.

Skeptics believe the choice was made because several powerful legislators–including John Gregg, speaker of the House of Representatives, and Senate Minority Leader Richard Young–are graduates of the college who want to assure its survival.

"This was not done to help Vincennes financially," Jones replied. "That might be an important benefit but it was not the motive."

Vincennes officials say they did not seek the assignment but are glad to undertake it as a service to the state.

"It was not our initiative," President Phillip M. Summers said in an interview. "We were asked if we would participate and we agreed."

Summers, a tall, thin man with a deep voice that he lends to a local choir, looked distressed when he was asked if the college might be undertaking this new role because full-time-equivalent enrollment on the main campus has dropped more than 16 percent in the last decade and some 50 faculty members have been laid off.

"I did not respond to this initiative because it might benefit Vincennes University financially," he said. "As a matter of fact, I'm not sure we'll make any money at all from this arrangement."

Once Governor O'Bannon and the Commission for Higher Education decided that a new community college system was the best way to upgrade Indiana's workforce skills and to increase its production of both two- and four-year degrees, they faced three choices:

One option was to build a new system of two-year colleges, as California, New York and some other states have done, but that was ruled out as too expensive.

A second possibility was to develop some Ivy Tech campuses into comprehensive community colleges, with a full range of academic transfer, as well as technical and vocational, programs. This is the course of action that Ivy Tech would have preferred.

William D. Kramer, vice president for planning and education, pointed out that 44 academic programs are offered at Ivy Tech's 23 sites, 26 of which are accepted for transfer by at least some of the state's four-year public campuses. About ten percent of Ivy Tech graduates do transfer to a four-year school each year, he added, and most do well there.

  Vincennes University President Phillip M. Summers looks forward to his institution's new role in Indiana higher education.
  Vincennes University President Phillip M. Summers looks forward to his institution's new role in Indiana higher education.
   
"There's never been an issue about the quality and the content of our general education courses," Kramer said. "The quality of Ivy Tech's education has never been in question."

"We have everything except the liberal arts degree," said Thomas Cooke, dean of instruction at the Ivy Tech Indianapolis campus. "And that could be easily accommodated within our present structure."

Transfer rates would have been higher, Ivy Tech officials argue, if four-year institutions, especially Indiana University, had been willing to accept more Ivy Tech credits.

In Richmond, a small city close to the Indiana-Ohio state line, Indiana University East and Ivy Tech share a campus, although "share" might not be quite the right word. IU East, with an enrollment of 2,254 last fall, has four buildings on 204 acres, while Ivy Tech's 1,200 students are crowded into a single building on 21 acres plus leased facilities elsewhere in Richmond.

Ivy Tech Chancellor Jim Steck said he has a good relationship with David Fulton, his counterpart at IU East, on most matters but conceded that "at the academic level it's been difficult." Of 17 programs offered by Ivy Tech, the credits of only four are accepted for transfer to IU East.

"For instance, we have a very strong accounting program here," Steck said. "We've been working for eight or nine years to get IU to accept our courses for credit but we haven't gotten anywhere." IU faculty members are unwilling to accept the work of the students next door.

IU East Chancellor Fulton acknowledged, "that has been a problem–we're trying to find another way of doing it."

Whether the limited number of Ivy Tech transfer students is the result of Ivy Tech's failings or the intransigence of Indiana University and other four-year schools, the pace has been too slow for state planners.

"At this rate, it would be 2030 before Ivy Tech had a complete general education program," Sauer said. "We can't wait that long."

The third option available to Governor O'Bannon and the Commission for Higher Education was the Ivy Tech-Vincennes partnership.

"I will admit this is a unique strategy," Stan Jones said. "But this is a blend of good educational policy and good politics. I can get this done, and I can't get anything else done."

"I learned a long time ago that you have to have an idea that's going to have political support," said Jones, a political veteran who served in the state legislature and later as a top aide to former Governor Evan Bayh. "You have to have both the idea and the political support. Maybe there's a better idea out there but I don't know of another one I can get done."

Jones acknowledged that the plan was developed behind closed doors, without participation by Indiana University, Purdue and other four-year public institutions.

"If they knew of the talks, they would have organized their forces against the plan," he said. "Indiana University is still powerful. They kept community colleges out of the state 30 years ago, and they still want to keep them out."

Indiana University administrators are in a delicate position. They don't like the Ivy Tech-Vincennes arrangement but don't want to be seen as attempting to thwart a plan that has strong political support and appears to be popular with the state's citizens.

IU officials and, to a lesser extent, their Purdue counterparts, fear the new partnership will cut into lower-division (freshman and sophomore) enrollments at the seven regional campuses and perhaps even at the IU-Purdue joint operations in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne. The Ivy Tech-Vincennes campuses will be cheaper and more accessible.

This year, Ivy Tech charges $66.20 per credit hour, Vincennes $84.67. Tuition and fees at the regional Indiana University campuses average $104.17, and they are $140.41 at the university's flagship campus in Bloomington. That gap will widen, as tuition is frozen at Ivy Tech and Vincennes for at least two years.

"We will become a viable alternative to the IU (and Purdue) regionals," Wesley Teo, vice president for instruction and dean of the faculty at Vincennes, predicted confidently. "That's why they're so scared, and that's why all these forces come into play."

"All of the regional campuses have something to lose," said Alfred J. Guillaume, vice chancellor for academic affairs at IU South Bend.

Since no market studies have been done, Guillaume and other IU officials question Stan Jones' claim that there is a pool of 30,000 to 80,000 adults who are not served by existing postsecondary arrangements.

During his annual "state of the campus" speech last fall, IU South Bend Chancellor Kenneth L. Perrin called the plan "ill-conceived" and said of Jones, "I have become increasingly concerned about the increasing power and authority of one individual in our state."

Indiana University President Myles Brand then asked Perrin and the other regional campus chancellors not to criticize the plan publicly, although John Gregg, speaker of the House of Representatives, and other legislators said the university continued to lobby against the bill.

"There was no public attempt to stop it by IU because they thought they could control it in the legislature," said Philip Pierpont, the Vincennes assistant vice president who is coordinating the partnership effort. "But it turned out they were wrong–our friends in the legislature protected us from too many intrusions."

In an interview at his Indianapolis office, Brand denied that the university was seeking to undermine the plan. "I think there are some dirty tricks going on here," he said. "They're looking for a common enemy" and Indiana University is it.

  Stan Jones, Indiana commissioner for higher education, is the chief architect of the new community college plan.
  Stan Jones, Indiana commissioner for higher education, is the chief architect of the new community college plan.
   
"I think it is a good idea," he said. "There's a lacuna in Indiana higher education" that can be filled by the Ivy Tech-Vincennes partnership because the regional four-year campuses probably "do not meet all the needs of their communities."

But the new partners should concentrate on "upgrading the skills of the workforce," Brand added, leaving most of the academic transfer preparation to IU and Purdue, which will continue their two-year associate's degree programs. "We don't need any more junior colleges" that will "duplicate what we already have," he said.

The president said he found it "confusing" that Vincennes, with its emphasis on liberal arts transfer courses, has been partnered with Ivy Tech, and suggested that "more planning needs to take place."

Ivy Tech also has ambivalent views about the new arrangement.

"The community college is the right thing to do and I know the Ivy Tech family will work hard to make it happen for the citizens of Indiana," President Gerald I. Lamkin said after the legislation passed last April.

Lamkin participated in Stan Jones' closed-door discussions that lead to the plan, but one high-ranking Ivy Tech administrator said Lamkin "was told, not asked" about the partnership with Vincennes, which Ivy Tech long has seen as a rival.

"We were not enamored of this idea," said another official. "But when we saw that it was going to happen, we got involved and tried to make sure we came out with a decent compromise. I think we did."

Some Ivy Tech campuses are filled to capacity and would need new facilities if thousands of additional students decide to enroll in the new community college program.

Ivy Tech faculty members are worried about their jobs.

"It's like any merger–if you have two of each, you don't need both of them," said Jim Irwin, who has taught heating and air conditioning on the Indianapolis campus for 11 years and is now chairman of its faculty senate.

"I went through this in Kentucky," said Todd Murphy, who teaches microbiology and is vice chairman of the faculty senate. "When they moved to comprehensive community colleges, a lot of the vocational and technical people lost their jobs. It looks like the same thing is happening here."

"That won't happen as long as they have the enrollments," said Vincennes' Phil Pierpont.

This semester, all of the "Vincennes" classes are being taught by Ivy Tech instructors. This will be true for some time because the Vincennes faculty has been sharply cut back in the wake of the enrollment decline, and few Vincennes instructors have shown an interest in moving to an Ivy Tech campus.

At some point, however, some Ivy Tech instructors will morph into Vincennes instructors, and then one question will be how much these newly uniformed teachers should be paid.

The average Vincennes faculty member earns at least $10,000 more per year than his counterpart at Ivy Tech. This is because most Vincennes faculty members have been there for years, teach full-time and have tenure, while 75 percent of Ivy Tech's instructors are part-time in a system that has no tenure.

Vincennes has agreed to make few, if any, tenure appointments for a transition period of two years, a commitment that does not sit well with the faculty. Tenure has been a sensitive issue on the Vincennes campus since the Board of Trustees voted to freeze it, as a budget-cutting measure, four years ago, then rescinded the policy in the face of faculty protests.

There are other complications. For example, the two systems have different benefits packages and retirement plans. Although Vincennes has agreed to pay the cost of the classes taught at Ivy Tech, it is not clear who will pay for student support services such as counseling and financial aid.

"The real issue is money," said Ivy Tech's William Kramer, who pointed out that large classes in such general education subjects as English and World Civilization help to pay for smaller technical and vocational programs. "The question is, how will Vincennes be compensated for general education that we used to teach," Kramer said. "We need to be held harmless."

Despite the many unanswered questions and the shotgun marriage atmosphere in which the new partnership has been formed, Kramer said, "We'll make this work," a sentiment expressed by many who are grumbling about the plan.

Some believe the political fight is not over and that the legislature might revisit its decision to establish the Ivy Tech-Vincennes joint venture. "If it was created through a political process, you have to assume the political process can undo it," said Carl Lutz, Ivy Tech chancellor in South Bend.

But Stan Jones said that won't happen. "We've already been through the hardest part–getting the plan through the legislature," he said. "Community colleges are very popular with the general public. I think (four-year) institutions are going to be very careful about opposing an idea with this much appeal."

Many are convinced that Ivy Tech and Vincennes eventually will merge into one system, and that the two-year degree programs now offered by Indiana University, Purdue and other state universities will be phased out.

Whatever happens is likely to have a distinctive Indiana touch.

"This fits Indiana's way of doing things," said Dave Vollrath, an associate professor of business management at IU South Bend. "We have a rich array of institutions that have just sort of accreted, without any overall plan."

Or as Richard Hess, who teaches political communications at the joint Indiana University-Purdue campus in Fort Wayne, put it, "I've been in the state for 30 years and things just seem to get weirder and weirder. But this (the Ivy Tech-Vincennes partnership) is the weirdest yet."

Photos by Mary Ann Carter, BlackStar , for CrossTalk

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