Community colleges ready to serve as students rethink their options

According to a recent study by the Center for Consumer Insights, one of the ripple effects of the coronavirus pandemic is that an estimated 28 million Americans — or 11 percent of the U.S. adult population — are rethinking their education plans.

This comes at a time when our nation is facing significant challenges in terms of its global competitiveness and when more jobs than ever require a postsecondary credential.

This raises concerns not only nationally, but locally as well. In Indiana, the percentage of adults who have earned at least an associate degree has long lagged behind the national average. In addition, even before COVID-19, we were not on track to achieve our statewide goal of 60 percent of the workforce earning a post-secondary degree or credential. The hard truth is, we can’t afford to fall even further behind.

At Ivy Tech Community College, we believe Indiana has a significant opportunity to buck the national trend — but we will need to think differently about higher education moving forward.

Our recovery from the coronavirus pandemic could, in fact, prove to be a much-needed catalyst that mitigates long-standing challenges like the student debt crisis, misalignment between degree completion and employer needs, and antiquated delivery systems that limit opportunities for first generation students, minority families, and working adults.

Our staff and faculty are eager to play a key role in this evolution. As Indiana’s most affordable college, we’re local and ready to serve more students who need to cut their college costs by spending two years at Ivy Tech before transferring to a four-year institution. We’re here to accommodate guest students who may want to continue progressing towards their goals this summer or who aren’t quite ready to return to a four-year college campus in the fall. We have heard the term “gap year” used for students who are thinking of taking a year off before going back to, or starting at a four-year institution. No one should be taking a gap year. Instead the term “visiting year” might be used — the smarter choice is to visit Ivy Tech for a year taking classes and gaining credentials which stack to the student’s academic goal.

We’re ready and able to provide a high-quality education for those preparing to start their college journey and for those who are wondering what to do next with a journey they have already started. We’re ready to retrain those whose jobs have been impacted in recent weeks. And we’re ready to provide the short-term credentials employers value, which can also help the unemployed make a rapid return to the workforce.

In truth, Ivy Tech has always been ready to serve in these roles. Today, the only difference is that Indiana families also may be ready for a different approach to college. In the same study cited above, the percent of American adults considering a community college increased from 13 percent to 19 percent. Given the community college’s unique ability to meet the needs of those traditionally underserved by colleges and universities, this should be encouraging not only to Ivy Tech, but to all who value higher education.

These are unprecedented times, and they call for new approaches to just about everything we do. Higher education should be at the forefront of this reinvention with community colleges leading the way to a brighter future for Indiana, the nation, and our people.

President Ellspermann is Ivy Tech Community College’s ninth president and oversees the largest singly accredited statewide community college in the nation. She has more than 30 years of experience in higher education, economic and workforce development, and public service.

Sue Ellspermann is president of Ivy Tech Community College. Send comments to [email protected].