Ivy Tech's new president pushed her goal of building a more skilled workforce during a roundtable discussion Wednesday at Kokomo's regional campus.

Dr. Sue Ellspermann was named Ivy Tech’s president last month, and she has recently been busy touring some of Indiana’s 32 campuses. Kokomo marked her third stop along the route. Her official first day on the job is July 1.

“I want to thank you,” she told media gathered for the event. “This is a special time to have this 30 days before taking the reins on July 1 to really come out and meet people.”

Ellspermann spent almost four years as lieutenant governor in Gov. Mike Pence’s administration, a role that she said helps in the adjustment to becoming Ivy Tech’s president.

Citing Indiana’s low unemployment rate and the 142,000 jobs that have been created since she became Lt. Governor, Ellspermann said the challenge now becomes even more important to have a workforce that’s able to take on higher skilled jobs.

“This is the big opportunity to grow our economy,” she said. “It’s to meet the needs of the workforce and raise those wages through these mostly sub-baccalaureate programs, which are the short term certificates and the two-year degrees. We’re the big engine for the state.”

But as with any new position, Ellspermann does recognize there are challenges facing Ivy Tech that she will need to address. She talked about a couple of those challenges on Wednesday. One of them dealt with student success, along with graduation and completion rates.

“We can’t be satisfied with 1 in 4 of our students graduating in a two-year program in six years or 1 in 20 students completing a two-year program in two years,” she said.

Another challenge Ellspermann said Ivy Tech faces is the assistance coming from Senate Bill 301, which deals with workforce education. The Indiana General Assembly website states that the bill requires the state's Department of Workforce Development to prepare a report of employers' needs over the next ten years.

Ellspermann said that data will help colleges and universities across Indiana align their curriculum according to employers' needs and not just students' desires.

“So what we know is how full our classes are today,” Ellspermann said, “but what we don’t know is how many of those sections do we need.”

The DWD has until July 1 to collect all of its data.

But if it was up to Ellspermann, she’d rather have the numbers in front of her right now.

“If we’re going to be responsible to spend a quarter of a billion dollars a year that the state commits to Ivy Tech,” she said, “it needs to be focused in the areas that will make the greatest difference and move Hoosiers into well paid and high potential jobs.”

But Ellspermann said the biggest problem is still probably the misconception of Ivy Tech in the public’s eye. She said the university is still perceived as a technical center and not a community college, but Ellspermann was quick to point out that Ivy Tech is both.

She wants parents to know that too.

“I think parents particularly don’t understand that this is a great place for their children to start their first two years and to receive their first credential,” she said. “I think there’s still a lot of education needed for parents, for counselors, and for students about what Ivy Tech is capable of providing.”

And while she said she hadn’t given much thought to the fact that she’ll be the first female president in the university’s history, Ellspermann did say she’s excited about the role she’ll play in the next few years.

Looking at media representatives gathered, she paused for a second and smiled.

“I can’t wait,” she said.

Reach Kim Dunlap at kim.dunlap@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5150.

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