Fifty years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial. As he referenced the Eman-cipation Proclamation, he spoke of the “beacon of hope” promised in Lincoln’s words — and the need for our nation to make good on that promise.
The same year that Dr. King spoke in Washington — 1963 — a new institution was founded here in Indiana: Indiana Vocational Technical College. While it was launched with a multifaceted mission, the college was chartered in no small part to make higher education accessible to all of our state’s citizens.
Today, in 2013, not only do we celebrate the golden anniversary of Dr. King’s speech, but also what is now known as Ivy Tech Community College. And while it is clear progress must still be made, we have come a long way toward realizing the dream of equality in America. It is equally clear Ivy Tech and the American community college at large have played a significant role in delivering on that dream.
It is well understood that in our nation, a college education provides the single best opportunity for improved employability, earnings and quality of life. As tuition costs have skyrocketed, however, many colleges have moved beyond the reach of the average American family and beyond reality for lower-income households. The one option that remains feasible is the community college. Here in Indiana, for example, Ivy Tech’s annual tuition cost for a full-time student is $3,560 per year. At other Indiana colleges, a conservative average is $13,000 per year. Because it provides the most affordable option by far, especially for those looking to avoid crushing student loan debt burdens, Ivy Tech has become the largest college in Indiana, serving approximately 200,000 Hoosiers annually. This reflects trends nationally, as community colleges have become the first choice of a growing number of students, serving 45 percent of all U.S. undergraduates.