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Seizing the opportunity: Students needed to fill fields of study


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When the economy worsened about five years ago and the nation fell into a recession, laid-off workers by the thousands went back to school for training that would prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow.

With a Bartholomew County unemployment rate about 2 percentage points lower than Indiana’s July rate of 8.3 percent, and local college enrollment down from the prior year, it begged the question: Could it be a sign that the local economy is bouncing back?

That’s a question I had when I read our Sept. 10 front-page article on college enrollment trends.

So when I accepted an invitation last week to meet with Ivy Tech officials in Columbus, I had an opportunity to ask that very question. The cautious reply that followed gave me even more to think about.

“There is a lot of trepidation,” replied John Hogan, chancellor at the Columbus campus for the past nine years.

That’s both from an employer standpoint and a student standpoint.

“People that have money are waiting to see what happens in the (presidential) election,” Hogan said, speaking of business operators.

“Some students or potential students are waiting to see what the world is going to be like,” he added, referring to student aid and training dollars that have shrunk.

It doesn’t sound that different than when Colts quarterback Andrew Luck comes to the line on Sunday afternoon and sees a defensive alignment that looks potentially problematic, then abruptly signals “timeout.”

There’s no denying that Ivy Tech, and the Columbus region in particular, have seen college enrollment surges.

Between the 2005 and 2011 fall enrollments, the number of students served by the Columbus campus more than doubled from 2,301 to 4,780. This fall, enrollment slipped 10 percent over 2011, but year-over-year growth was still experienced in five out of the past seven years.

Even with an enrollment drop of 480 students this fall, the local campus is tight on space.

According to a 2011 presentation to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, 12 of the 14 Ivy Tech regions lacked adequate space for instruction. For the Columbus campus, which had a 69,641-square-foot space deficit in 2010, the only regions with greater square-footage needs were Indianapolis, Bloomington, Lafayette and Fort Wayne.

Last month, the Ivy Tech State board of trustees endorsed a $25 million request to fund a new 95,000-square-foot building for Columbus, to be used primarily for classrooms. Additionally, it supported a $5 million expansion and renovation of Poling Hall, for a total request of $30 million. Ivy Tech will make its budget request to the Commission for Higher Education Oct. 19.

“That’s a critical piece for us,” Hogan said.

The entire $30 million allocation would have to be approved next year by the state legislature when it again takes up capital funding requests. When building projects came up for consideration last year, nothing got funded.

Outgoing Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels has advocated alternatives to brick-and-mortar solutions to meet growing college enrollment demands — such as online courses and leasing space.

But the Columbus Ivy Tech campus already has shared-classroom space agreements with:

Indiana University Purdue University Columbus at the Columbus Learning Center.

Purdue University College of Technology at the Advanced Manufacturing Center of Excellence.

Ivy Tech and IUPUC also share a library.

Is the space-sharing concept an idea that’s with us for good?

“I think so,” Hogan replied. “If it works for students, it’s a good thing.”

If the state decides to use some of its forecast $2 billion budget surplus on college facilities, the Columbus campus already has 30 acres available on the Columbus Municipal Airport property where a local campus expansion could be constructed.

Recognizing that workforce development is its primary responsibility, Ivy Tech is providing two-year, associate-degree training that can be utilized to increase the workforce in the region’s current high-demand fields:

Mechanical engineering technology

Engineering technology

Design technology

Industrial technology

Advanced manufacturing

“We have students in all those programs,” Hogan said. “Just not enough.”

Just like the Colts’ seemingly constant need for healthy offensive linemen, local manufacturers and technology companies find themselves in a never-ending battle to acquire enough qualified candidates.

Local jobs are available. Local training is available.

The critical missing piece: Enough interested students and future job-seekers to seize the opportunity at hand.

Tom Jekel is editor of The Republic. His column appears each Sunday. You may reach him by phone at 379-5665 or by  email at tjekel@therepublic.com

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