July 30, 2013

MARCUS: Ivy Tech is our hope and our failure


---- — Several years ago, I asked the chancellor of Ivy Tech in Gary, “Why does your institution exist?”

The response was clear and defini-tive, “We are a second-chance school where those who seek additional education experiences can turn after high school.”

He did not say, “We are here to grant degrees and certificates.”

Ivy Tech is Indiana’s legislative answer for the poor quality work done by our high schools. A significant portion of Ivy Tech’s resources are used for remediation in English and math. What was not learned in the primary or secondary grades is offered to young adults to enlarge their opportunities in life as well as in the job market.

As we have lowered standards in “academic studies” and decreased vocational training in high schools, the burden on Ivy Tech and our traditional colleges and universities has increased.

Some high school students are ready by their senior year to take college credit courses. But these are the few, the academic elite. Many who have not dropped out of high school by their senior year are deficient in English and math, in history and government, to say nothing of civility.

Whiners in state government believe that students should graduate in a given period of time. They forget that most of these students are not well-prepared for learning.

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 wastrel, squandering the resources of his/her family and of the state (to the extent that the state provides any resources).

Ivy Tech bears the burden of impossible expectations. It is supposed to prepare young people for jobs by certifying they have completed certain requirements satisfactorily. The appropriate metric for such an institution is not a graduation rate, but a placement rate.

What portion of Ivy Tech students find employment within what period of time? Adjusting for the general rate of unemployment, it is success in employment that counts, not some piece of paper stamped with the institution’s logo.

A student may be in Ivy Tech for a short period of time and still be counted as a success, if we drop the expectation of certification. The issue is not for the students to meet the demands of the college, but for the college to meet the needs of the students.

Over the years, Ivy Tech has made serious errors. It became an employment center for members of the General Assembly. It over-reached and built an excessive number of campuses. It built an empire of administrators to exchange memos with other administrators. Meanwhile, many of its students left without necessary job-related skills.

These problems can be addressed with time. What can not be recovered are the lost opportunities of students who have been denied the education/job preparation they sought and did not receive.

Morton J. Marcus is formerly with the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. He can be reached at