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Initiative provides 11-month, $8,000 route to diploma


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The average associate degree program takes two years and costs about $20,000, but Ivy Tech Community College — Columbus is offering students a chance to shave off time and money.

The campus is launching an Associate Accelerated Program, which will grant degrees ASAP, an acronym for the education initiative.

Students will be able to earn the required 60 community college credits over an intensive 11 months instead of the traditional two-year track, and the tuition bill is less than $8,000.

Jessica Taylor will be among the first class of ASAP students at the Columbus campus, and she’s taking extreme advantage of the program.

The home-schooled junior from Columbus will graduate from high school next year with an associate degree, finishing out her senior year in Ivy Tech classrooms.

The Columbus campus will start by offering only one degree, the Associate of Science in Liberal Arts.

It’s not a vocational qualifier, meaning it’s not designed to lead directly to the workforce, but it is a shortcut to a four-year degree.

“This is a program not developed for students who just simply want to get an associate degree and finish,” said Luke Clark, the program’s local director.

Clark is finalizing logistics and recruiting for the first class of students at the Columbus campus.

He is looking for highly motivated and dedicated students — recruiting in high school classrooms and at community meetings — to join what he described as a “family-based, community-focused group.”

The beginnings of ASAP

The Lumina Foundation, a private group focused on helping 60 percent of the population attain a postsecondary degree, certificate or other credential by 2025, is always looking for innovative partners.

The foundation found one in Ivy Tech, and in 2010 provided $2.34 million to help launch the ASAP program at the Indianapolis and Fort Wayne campuses. Lafayette became the third campus to offer the program the following year.

Esmeralda Sanchez was one of the first students to participate in the accelerated associate degree program when it started at the Indianapolis campus.

Sanchez graduated from high school in May 2010 and planned to enlist in the military but had to change her plans when she learned she was pregnant.

Her counselor told her about the new program at Ivy Tech, and in just over a year Sanchez had graduated with an associate degree in business and computer science.

Although she struggled with time management, she said the class sizes helped her succeed.

“The experience has been incredible,” she said. “You not only learn the subject matter, but you learn about yourself.”

After hearing stories such as Sanchez’s, the Lumina Foundation pledged an additional $2.23 million — and the Ivy Tech system matched the grant with $3.1 million — to continue the program.

ASAP is set to expand to every campus in the community college system, including Columbus.

What it offers

ASAP students are encouraged to think of college as a job — a five-day-a-week, nine-to-five job.

While a full course load is typically considered 15 credit hours per 16-week semester, ASAP students cram 12 credit hours in each eight-week term. Classes are scheduled from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., but students are encouraged to be on campus an hour early and an hour late for study sessions and homework help.

Because of the rigorous schedule and expectations, students are asked to sign a pledge that commits them — physically and emotionally — to the degree. They’re not supposed to take on a job, unless it’s on the weekends, and their parents must agree to house them for the 11-month period.

An ASAP student is motivated, high-achieving and has no attendance or disciplinary issues, Clark said. Most importantly, he said these students will have a vision for the future.

It’s a topic he plans to address with every student in admission interviews: “What is your end goal? Where do you want to go with this?”

There’s time built into the schedule so students can apply to four-year institutions in the fall, and Clark will help facilitate college visits. If students are interested, he will show them what a large campus such Indiana University or Purdue University is like but also what smaller colleges such as Hanover College or Franklin College offer.

As ASAP classes are small, the students will be able to share successes and overcome challenges together, just as they will with their co-workers when they start their careers.

Clark hopes to find at least 15 students — which would make the program financially self-sufficient — but he’ll cap the enrollment at about 30.

Program details

Most students will be together all day, every day at the School of Business downtown, but Clark said there is some flexibility in the schedule. For example, one student already has taken several of the general education courses required in the first term, so she will only join her ASAP class for IVYT-101, a team-building and orientation class, on Wednesdays.

Clark said he hopes there will be some scheduling freedom toward the end of the program, when students can take classes specific to their career goals.

The program targets at-risk or low-income students and attempts to lift any barriers for them — the biggest being cost.

The program is structured so students can apply for two different rounds of financial aid. The 2013-14 FAFSA will consider summer costs, and the 2014-15 FAFSA will cover the rest.

The Lumina Foundation is offering $2,500 scholarships to half of the students enrolled at the Columbus campus.

Only 20 percent of ASAP students graduate with debt, and those who do owe money have an average balance of $500. Students can qualify for up to $5,645 in federal Pell Grant money, which doesn’t need to be paid back. Add a $2,500 scholarship to that, and the tuition bill is covered with some change left for books and materials.

Steven Combs, interim chancellor of the Columbus campus, said home-schooled students such as Taylor are a good fit for the program.

“They’re not going to be overwhelmed by college,” he said. “They’re going to be nurtured.”

One of the ASAP classes required during the first semester focuses on team building. Clark said activities could include a canoeing trip or a low-ropes course. The class might also travel to an amusement park, such as Kings Island in Ohio.

Clark said he doesn’t want to bore students out of school; he wants them to be eager to come to class. But it won’t be all fun and games either, he said.

Graduates from other Ivy Tech campuses have reflected on the experience and report pulling several all-nighters and additional daytime hours to pore over textbooks and class materials.

But Sanchez said the hard work pays off. She transferred to Ball State University to earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration and marketing.

“Ivy Tech’s ASAP program inspired me to work hard in school and be somebody in life,” she said.

Combs said it’s a model he would like to use more often.

“Students persist when they have a clear end date,” he said.

Future of ASAP at Ivy Tech

The funding from Lumina Foundation will run out in a few years, so Clark hopes to get the program off the ground and running quickly and smoothly.

The Columbus campus has a few things working in its favor, Combs said.

The student housing project — a 112-bed complex set to open in this fall at the Columbus Municipal Airport park — could draw in students from all over the state, Combs said.

Having IUPUC right next door could entice others to attend the Columbus program. Combs said he has started discussing the possibility of teaming up with IUPUC, which offers bachelor degrees in several areas including business, nursing, psychology and elementary education.

“The partnership is something we have embraced a long time ago,” said Marwan Wafa, vice chancellor and dean at IUPUC.

Although there is currently no Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts degree offered at IUPUC, Wafa said there is potential to create a new pathway from the accelerated program at Ivy Tech to a four-year degree from IUPUC.

There are degrees in the Division of Liberal Arts, such as English and communications, that would align to the Ivy Tech degree, Wafa said.

There’s also potential for students to earn a bachelor’s degree in two-and-a-half years — assuming they spend one year completing ASAP and another year and a half at IUPUC.

“It’s feasible, but it requires a lot of discipline, a lot of work on the part of the students,” Wafa said.

Although students can enter the workforce with the associate’s degree from Ivy Tech, Combs said he is hopeful most of the ASAP students will continue the postsecondary education path.

The degree — an Associate of Science in Liberal Arts — encourages it.

While applied science degrees feed college graduates right into the workforce and address the skills gap, ASAP trims the time for a bachelor’s degree.

Combs said the degree is highly transferable, especially with public Indiana universities. As mandated by state law, at least 30 of the credit hours earned through ASAP are guaranteed to transfer to any Indiana public university.

He said one recent ASAP graduate transferred to Ball State University and was told, “Congratulations, you’re a junior and an honors student.”

The liberal arts program offers a broad base of core classes, so students can transfer to four-year programs in a variety of disciplines, such as nursing, business and finance, and communications.

In the meantime, Clark is focused on enrolling enough students to make the program self-sufficient.

“I feel fully confident we are going to do well,” he said.

Statewide success

Clark’s confidence is based on evidence from other Ivy Tech campuses.

The program is cheaper than the average cost of tuition at a public university but has shown better results.

The program costs $7,119 per year at Ivy Tech, but a comparable degree from a public university — which would typically take two years to complete — would cost upward of $20,000.

After 12 months, 86 percent of ASAP students earn a degree or are still enrolled, a rate five times better than the average for all Ivy Tech Community College students.

Retention rates are higher, meaning students are more likely to finish what they started, and more students have expressed intention to pursue additional postsecondary education.

But there is one problem with the program, Clark said: “They’re a little bored when they get to a four-year university because their schedules slow down.”

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