A startup technical school that once was small enough to hold all of its classes in some spare rooms of the old Columbus City Hall and Cummins Engine Co. is forecasting record enrollment for the 2012-13 school year.
The Columbus/Franklin region already has proven itself to be one of the strongest Ivy Tech Community College regions in the state.
Ivy Tech, a two-year state college that has 23 campuses statewide, is observing its 50th anniversary this year. It is Indiana’s largest public post-secondary institution and the nation’s largest singly accredited statewide community college system, according to the college’s central office in Indianapolis.
Its 14 established regions serve nearly 200,000 students a year. Its largest, in Indianapolis, sported more than 35,000 students as of its last official enrollment count in 2010-11.
The Columbus/Franklin region, which takes in all or parts of Bartholomew, Brown, Decatur, Jackson, Jennings and Johnson counties, added students at a rate that surpassed that of every other Ivy Tech region in the state between 2006-07 and 2010-11.
In that time frame, enrollment here went from 4,369 to 10,073.
Randy Proffitt, executive director of marketing and communications for the local Ivy Tech, said enrollment at Ivy Tech — Columbus/Franklin unofficially shrank to 10,009 in 2010-11, but is projected to rise to an all-time high of 10,400 in 2012-13, which would be a 3 percent annual increase.
Official numbers for the 2011-12 school year are expected to be released in the next few weeks.
“I think the Columbus/Franklin region is known for the quality of our programs,” said Jonathan Wilson, the Columbus campus’ dean of the School of Fine Arts and public/social services. “Just about everyone who comes with a career objective finds a job.”
Ivy Tech’s start
The behemoth that would become Ivy Tech got its start in 1963 as Indiana Vocational Technical College. The State Legislature implemented it to help feed Indiana’s economic engine, with the idea being that it could train workers to fill its best jobs.
Ivy Tech’s Columbus/Franklin region was formally organized and commissioned as Ivy Tech Region 10 in 1967. However, the college did not get its start in Columbus until 1968, when the regional board of trustees reached an agreement with then-Columbus Mayor E.M. Kline for temporary accommodations at the old City Hall at Fifth and Franklin streets and for evening classes at Cummins.
The first official regional enrollment statistics come from the spring quarter of 1969 and reflect only the noncredited or specialized training classes at Cummins. It had 11 students enrolled in Tech Math 2, 13 enrolled in Physics, nine enrolled in Power Systems and 119 enrolled in Architectural Drafting.
Official credit enrollment began in fall of 1969 for 76 students, most of whom were aspiring to a technical certificate or a certificate of completion.
Fast forward to the 2010-11 school year.
The local school has a centralized campus on northern Central Avenue near the Columbus Municipal Airport and has begun discussing the possibility of expansion. It’s a full-fledged community college that offers two-year degrees in a variety of subjects. Its regionwide enrollment grew from 6,587 in the 2008-09 school year to 8,977 in 2009-10 and to 10,073 in 2010-11.
Unofficial numbers showed enrollment dropped slightly in 2011-12 in what local officials blame on the souring economy.
Proffitt said uncertainty in the marketplace is keeping some people from pursuing their educational goals, but he is confident it is only a hiccup in an otherwise upward trajectory.
Part of the reason is that the Indiana General Assembly is promising to focus on workforce development during its current four-month session. It is a field Ivy Tech specializes in to keep curriculum up to date with the demands of employers, helping the state secure a strong economy.
Enrollment across Ivy Tech locations as a whole was up 4 percent year-over-year for the spring semester, which began Jan. 14, according to statistics from the main Ivy Tech office in Indianapolis. In this region, enrollment for the spring semester was up nearly 3 percent, from 4,038 students to 4,142.
John Hogan, chancellor of the Columbus/Franklin campus since 2003, credits affordability — particularly in the current economy — as the main reason students are choosing Ivy Tech statewide instead of Indiana’s well-known and well-regarded four-year universities such as Purdue University, Indiana University and Ball State.
Ivy Tech gets about a third of its funding from the state and about two-thirds of its funding from student tuition. Its budget — and the tuition it needs to charge its students — is set by taking into account the promised state funding as well as revenue projections for the upcoming school year.
Currently, Ivy Tech charges a full-time student $3,334 for in-state tuition, while IU charges $10,034 and Purdue charges $9,900 for in-state tuition, according to information compiled from the school websites.
That financial difference doesn’t take into account the savings people see by living at home with their parents instead of paying for room and board at a college campus away from home.
“People are much less interested in the brand name and more interested in how far their money will go,” Hogan said. “When you’re offering something for a higher quality and for less money, more people will show interest.”
Affordability was the main reason Melissa Castillo, 38, of Hope, decided to start her schooling at the local Ivy Tech.
She said she began there in summer 2007 and graduated in May 2012 with an associate’s degrees in office administration (with a medical specialty) and liberal arts (with a psychology specialty). She said she transferred her credits to Trine University of Angola, where she is studying online for a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
She estimated that starting her college career at Ivy Tech saved her more than $20,000 of what it would have cost to start and finish her schooling at a different college. Ivy Tech had everything she needed, and she saved even more money by getting to live at home.
Tammie Niewedde, 40, of Brownstown, graduated in December from Ivy Tech in Columbus with an associate’s degree in English. She transferred her credits to Indiana University Southeast, where she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English, writing and literature with a minor in psychology.
She said Ivy Tech is affordable, offered the classes she wanted (on campus and online) and was close enough to home that she didn’t have to drive far.
“I’d definitely recommend it,” she said.
An increasing number of younger students are choosing Ivy Tech as well.
Hailey Helm, 19, a graduate of Jennings County High School, said she chose the local Ivy Tech primarily because it costs less than other higher education institutions. But she also likes its proximity to home, its relatively small size and that it offers the courses she needs to begin pursuing a two-year radiology degree.
She said she would need to transfer to Ivy Tech in Indianapolis for the 2013-14 school year to complete her degree, because Ivy Tech does not offer the full program in Columbus.
Kenneth Whitis, 20, said he chose the local Ivy Tech to pursue his paramedic science degree, mainly because Ivy Tech was willing to take him. He said the fact that he is an Edinburgh High School dropout would have disqualified him from many colleges and universities.
But there are other reasons for Ivy Tech’s enrollment success in general, and its success in Columbus in particular.
Wilson, who has been at Ivy Tech for 37 years, said people have come to realize that Ivy Tech has completed the transition from a one-time vocational school to a full-service community college that offers degrees in numerous disciplines.
He said Ivy Tech’s credits transfer easily to other state schools. That means a student can save money taking care of some basic coursework at Ivy Tech before transferring to places such as IU or Purdue to complete a four-year degree.
Locally, Ivy Tech’s growth in five years far surpassed that of every other Ivy Tech region in the state, Wilson said. He credited that to its quality leadership, which put together a “diverse menu of program options,” including online courses.
As of spring 2012, about 29 percent of the Columbus’ campus’ course offerings were delivered online, said Julia Stumpff, director of Ivy Tech Library Services and Instructional Technology. She said about half of its students took courses strictly on campus, 19 percent took them strictly online and 32 percent mixed the two.
Roger Bingham, vice chancellor of student affairs at the Columbus campus, said the variety of enrollment is almost as interesting as the volume of enrollment at the campuses statewide.
The campuses are seeing a younger demographic than they did a few years ago, he said. Whereas the majority of its enrollment used to be adult workers returning to school, the majority now is young people straight out of high school.
The evidence of that shift can be seen in the local school’s formation of volleyball, softball and basketball intramural programs.
Another is the school’s service learning component, which came in response to demand by a new age of young people who are used to giving back to their communities.
Bingham said it’s not enough anymore to tell a student something when it can be experienced.
“Young people don’t have demands on their time that an older person with a family would have,” he said. “It’s a whole new student.”