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August 25, 2013

ANKER: The burden of impossible expectations

I recently read economist Morton Marcus’ piece in this paper, “Ivy Tech: Our Hope, Our Failure.” I was interested in his perspective enough to provide some comments as a local business owner who understands the important role higher education plays in the success of companies here in Indiana.

Marcus’ piece was a response to recent criticism lobbed at Ivy Tech by those who measure the College’s success based on graduation rates alone. While I and my peers agree that graduation rates can and must improve, we also continue to be frustrated by such a limiting definition of student success.

That’s why I was so heartened by Marcus’ piece, in which he accurately accounted for some of the primary considerations often ignored by some. These errors of omission become even more troublesome when they lead to Ivy Tech having placed upon it, in Marcus’ words, “the burden of impossible expectations” Three of his points are especially prescient:

Those who enroll at Ivy Tech often need time and support to ready themselves to do college-level work. As an open-access college, Ivy Tech must accommodate all students who satisfy minimal criteria upon entry, regardless of their preparedness for postsecondary education. This is a part of its mission that it embraces willfully and eagerly, but it often works against the College when students are given an artificial deadline that’s not aligned with their needs. Currently, nearly 70 percent of their students need remediation in one of more areas, which slows their progress toward graduation.

Unfortunately, this is the rule, not the exception. As Marcus accurately notes, “Some high school students are ready by their senior year to take college credit courses. But these are the few, the academic elite.”

A college education is often as much about the journey as the destination. Just as Ivy Tech embraces its role as an open-access college, it also welcomes the opportunity to be known as a catalyst for developing Indiana’s workforce. However, Ivy Tech also accepts that for some students, a college education provides only an indirect path toward a career. As Marcus aptly notes, “The mission of education, in the minds of state government officials, has changed from imparting the wisdom of civilization to preparing youth for that first pay check. A college student without a confirmed career orientation is considered a waste.”

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