By Maureen Hayden
CNHI Statehouse Bureau
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — The State Budget Committee gave the green light to $63 million in state funding for expansion projects at three Ivy Tech Community College campuses Wednesday, but only after telling school administrators that they wanted more involvement in the college’s finances.
The expansion projects, at Ivy Tech campuses in Anderson, Bloomington and Indianapolis, are coming at a time when the school is considering downsizing or closing some of its other programs around the state to make up for what school officials call a budget “shortfall” of about $78 million.
At the state budget committee Wednesday, Republican State Sen. Luke Kenley told Ivy Tech administrators that they were sending “mixed messages” by asking for more state money at the same time they were planning employee layoffs and looking at closing up to a quarter of their off-campus sites around the state.
“I don’t think Ivy Tech is a failing institution,” Kenley said, before adding the perception among some legislators may be different because of fears Ivy Tech programs in their communities are on the chopping block.
“You’ve got many legislators saying, ‘What gives here?’ ” said Kenley, who chairs the legislative budget committee by virtue of his powerful role on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the budget committee approved Ivy Tech’s plans to spend $24 million to build a new 76,000-square-foot facility in Anderson, on 40 acres of land near Interstate 69. The land was donated to the college by the city of Anderson.
The committee also approved another $20 million for Ivy Tech to expand its campus in Bloomington by adding new classrooms, offices, an auditorium and a wellness center. And it green-lighted a $23 million expansion at Ivy Tech’s Fall Creek campus near downtown Indianapolis.
But committee members also told Ivy Tech President Tom Snyder they want to be more involved in the college’s future fiscal plan because of the critical role Ivy Tech needs to play in increasing the number of college graduates in Indiana. Indiana currently ranks in the bottom 10 states for adults with post-secondary degrees.
Snyder agreed, and told committee members Ivy Tech has no intent to reduce its critical role as a statewide community college providing low-cost education and training to millions of Hoosiers who can’t afford — or don’t want — a traditional four-year degree from one of the state’s more costly residential universities.
“For many people, community colleges are still the pathway to the middle class,” Snyder said.
Enrollment at Ivy Tech has grown by more than 50 percent in the past six years, at nearly 200,000 students, making it the largest public post-secondary institution in the state. It has 31 campuses for which it receives direct state funding, but it also offers classes in more than 40 other communities, for which it receives much less state money.
The rapid growth, with programs or campuses in most of Indiana’s 92 counties, has presented major challenges. The school has what Snyder described as a $78 million shortfall — money it doesn’t have but needs to spend on upgrading equipment, expanding classroom facilities, and hiring more academic advising and guidance staff.
Snyder told budget committee members Ivy Tech already has consolidated its administration offices and school officials are conducting a cost-benefit analysis this summer of all sites that operate through lease agreements without state support. Snyder also said he expects there will be a round of employee layoffs announced in the next week.
Ivy Tech has come under some criticism for its low on-time graduation rate; only 4 percent of its students complete an associate degree within two years of enrolling. But Snyder said most Ivy Tech students don’t take a full load of classes because they have to work or raise families.
Ivy Tech became a statewide community college in 2005, taking over the role of other universities' regional campuses as the state’s provider of associate degrees and handling most of the remediation programs for high school graduates not ready to go on to college.
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org