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Ivy Tech tackles jobs gap with evolving curriculum


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Ivy Tech Community College students have twice as many courses to choose from than their Columbus campus peers had 20 years ago. That includes more classes in high-demand fields such as health, computers and advanced manufacturing.

But school officials admit they have a hard time getting enough people interested in pursuing technical careers to fill demand, the same issue Gov. Mike Pence identified in his State of the State address.

A consulting company that is examining the state’s skills gap reported last month that, among two-year colleges, only about 10 percent of students who enroll in technical programs stick with them long enough to complete their degree.

But the research is somewhat misleading, said Randy Proffitt, executive director of marketing and communications for Ivy Tech’s Columbus/Franklin region, based in Columbus.

About the series

This is the second installment of The Republic’s three-part series on Ivy Tech’s 50th anniversary. It began in January with a look at the local region’s state-leading enrollment growth. Today’s segment looks at the changing curriculum. The series concludes in March with a look into the college’s future.

FutureWorks, a consulting company, looked at only first-time students who go to school full time, Proffitt said.

It did not take into account that some students cut back their workloads and graduate later, he said. But when applying the measurement as it was established, Ivy Tech falls into the 10 percent figure.

“It’s a problem, but I think it’s improving in Columbus,” said Teresa Begley, executive director of the local region’s Corporate College function. “We’re doing what we can to get the word out about our programs.”

Ivy Tech is observing its 50th anniversary this year as Indiana’s largest public postsecondary institution and the nation’s largest singly accredited statewide community college, according to the college’s central office in Indianapolis. The local region, which takes in all or parts of Bartholomew, Brown, Decatur, Jackson, Jennings and Johnson counties, has been among the fastest-growing Ivy Tech districts in the state.

Its academic arm deals with entire programs that lead to credits and degrees. Its Corporate College division, created in the early 1980s, is tasked with working with companies to develop short- and long-term programs that give their employees skills that they need for specific jobs.

Technology has driven changes to both arms in the Columbus/Franklin region, Proffitt said.

On the academic side, manufacturing programs added mechatronics, for example. Mechatronics includes a combination of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, control engineering and computer engineering.

On the Corporate College side, the school continues to customize its offerings to fit direct company needs for high-tech positions. An example of that is hydraulics training.

Measuring success

According to local Ivy Tech officials and comments from the companies and students the college serves, both arms have been successful at their preparatory tasks, contributing to this community’s reputation as a hotbed for economic health.

“I’d give it an A-plus,” said Zach McClellan, manager of the university division at LHP Software, a software design company in Columbus. “They know how to find the right instructors when we need them. And if they don’t have the right ones, they’ll go out and find them.”

Jeff Adams, 55, of Columbus, is taking Corporate College classes in the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing program, which meets five days a week at the local Ivy Tech campus.

He pursued that program in an effort to advance from a press operator to a technician at PMG Inc., Columbus, which supplies metal components for the automotive industry.

Adams said he is learning a lot from the classes and feels confident that he is obtaining the skills necessary to succeed.

Rachelle Cole, 22, a sophomore, said she chose to pursue an associate’s degree in agriculture at Ivy Tech’s academic arm because it offers the training she needs to eventually land a job in livestock management.

“They’re good courses taught by teachers with experience in agriculture,” said Cole, whose family owns a small livestock farm south of Columbus.

Obstacles to overcome

But with growth comes difficulty getting the word out about Ivy Tech’s educational offerings, college officials recognize. An ensuing ripple effect is spreading to some companies, hurting their ability to attract quality help, Begley said.

One of the reasons technological fields have a harder time attracting talented workers is because companies in fields such as robotics are more likely to lay off workers in an economic downtown compared with health care, for example, said Sue Smith, corporate executive for manufacturing and technology at the local campus.

Job security is a factor, and some students are reluctant to get into a field that they perceive as potentially unstable, she said.

LHP Software has used Ivy Tech to train workers to communicate the company’s high-tech product to non-tech customers, McClellan said. He said enlisting that help has saved his company time and money by sparking understanding more quickly between engineers and customers.

Still, LHP — which has about 300 employees — struggles to recruit enough skilled workers to fill positions, McClellan said.

North Vernon Industry Corp., which makes forklift counterbalances, has used Ivy Tech to train its leaders to be better at communication, coaching and counseling, and its maintenance workers to be even better at what they do, said Mark Walters, the company’s human resources director.

He said the result of leadership training has been improved employee morale, which improves attendance and reduces turnover. The maintenance training has resulted in smoother and more consistently running equipment, which improves product quality and productivity.

Begley said the Corporate College arm of the local Ivy Tech is trying new ways to get the word out about its programs.

For example, it has deliberately located its offices at the Advanced Manufacturing Center for Excellence, 4444 Kelly St., because people know the facility deals specifically with teaching science, technology, engineering and math.

By working through high school counselors, Corporate College officials also can arrange tours for high school students who they hope will become impressed with the atmosphere of the facility and its attractive, high-end equipment.

Begley said Ivy Tech also hosted open houses and school tours to generate awareness that it is part of this community and that it has the right courses for many students.

New approaches

Typically, an eight-hour training session arranged by Ivy Tech can cost between $150 and $250 a worker, in addition to the cost charged to the company that sends them, she said. But with grants, workers who fit specified criteria sometimes can attend certain classes for free.

Last year, the Ivy Tech Columbus/Franklin region offered those kinds of services to about 70 companies in Bartholomew and surrounding counties. The programs that rose out of those partnerships lasted from one day to several months, Begley said.

The academic arm of the college also will continue to look for ways to spread the word that students can use a vocational education to land a better job, pick up a new skill or start building toward an education at a four-year college, Begley said.

Proffitt said school officials starting last year scheduled classes under some programs to mirror the high school experience. He said students in the mechatronics program, for example, attend all classes in a six-hour time frame instead of attending classes one hour a week for six weeks.

“It does help students complete the program when everything is concentrated and focused,” said Proffitt, although documented results have not been gathered. “When classes are spread out, someone with a full-time job might have difficulty.”

Proffitt said another project might launch in the fall that allows students to complete an associate’s degree in one year instead of two. He said the option would require students to agree not to hold jobs outside school and for their parents to continue supporting them during that schooling.

Details of that program are still coming together, but Proffitt said it is likely that students would have to maintain a certain grade-point average. He said he did not know what would happen if a student couldn’t fulfill his commitment or if he runs into a hardship.

“Other (Ivy Tech) regions have had success with this,” Proffitt said. “If young students want to finish faster, they can carry that to the workforce or transfer to a four-year school sooner.”

With student- and employer-oriented approaches to job training, the Columbus/Franklin region expects to continue developing the skills that companies look for in their employees.

THEN AND NOW

Here is a snapshot comparison of the number and variety of degree programs available in 1991 and the current year at Ivy Tech Community College — Columbus/Franklin:

1991 programs

Accounting technology

Administrative office technology

Automotive service technology

Business management

Commercial photography

Computer information systems

Drafting

Electronics

General education

Graphic design

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning

Medical assisting

Practical nursing

2013 programs

Accounting

Advanced manufacturing

Agriculture

Business administration

Computer information systems

Computer information technology

Computer science

Criminal justice

Dental assisting

Design technology

Early childhood education

Education

Engineering technology

General studies

Health care support

Hospitality administration

Human services

Information security

Industrial technology

Environmental (interior) design

Liberal arts

Library technical assistant

Manufacturing, production and operations

Mechanical engineering technology

Mechatronics Institute

Medical assisting

Nursing

Office administration

Paralegal studies

Paramedic Science

Practical Nursing

Surgical technology

Visual communications

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS

Ivy Tech Community College — Columbus/Franklin has added 16 programs since 2001:

2001

Dental

Early childhood education

Surgical

2004

Criminal justice

Human services

Nursing

2005

Paramedic science

2006

Environmental (interior) design

Education

2007

Agriculture

2010

Engineering technology

Hospitality administration

Mechanical engineering technology

2011

Mechatronics Institute

2012

Advanced manufacturing

Computer science

Programs discontinued since 2001:

2003

Electronics technology program, because of changing technology and low enrollment.

Other programs were folded into new programs. For instance, commercial photography was folded into visual communications, and drafting was folded into design technology.

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