Evansville Courier & Press
Dr. Sue Ellspermann was Indiana’s lieutenant governor in May, 2015, when the State Legislature denied all construction requests, including one to be part of the downtown medical school consortium in Evansville, from Ivy Tech Community College.
But Ellspermann, who resigned as Mike Pence’s second-in-command in March, 2016, and took over as statewide president of Ivy Tech in July, 2016, got the legislature’s message loud and clear: Do better for your students and their prospective employers, or expect more of the same.
“The Legislature really, really got our attention two years ago,” Ellspermann said during an editorial board meeting with the Courier & Press on June 15. “We knew we had to do things differently, and better, from recruitment to our internal alignment to accountability.”
That was part of the impetus of a reorganization project that is coming together in time for the fall semester at the Ivy Tech campuses that cover much of the state, including Evansville.
The system was reorganized into 19 campuses along with 26 educational sites (including ones in Princeton and Tell City). It has moved away from a bi-regional structure (Evansville was joined with Terre Haute, for instance) to campus-based leadership, and reinstated a “school model” concentrating on seven areas: business, logistics and supply chain; public affairs and social services; information technology; arts, sciences and education; health sciences; nursing; and advanced manufacturing, engineering and applied technology.
In Evansville, for instance, Chancellor Jonathan Weinzapfel now can concentrate on the local campus only by not also overseeing Terre Haute.
“Our overarching focus is to put more ‘community’ into community college,” Ellspermann said.
Ivy Tech believes it can more closely match the needs of area employers by emphasizing studies and job availability in each area. For instance, if there is a shortage of nurses, take care to recruit students to that field. If it’s engineering, stress that. If its information technology (still a hot field), identify interests.
As lieutenant governor, Ellspermann heard plenty from employers who were considering locating or expanding in Indiana. Ivy Tech is currently turning out about 21,000 graduates statewide; to fill the state’s needs, it would like to increase that number to 50,000. “If Ivy Tech doesn’t get it done, Indiana won’t get it done,” said Ellspermann.
In 2015, Ivy Tech was left out of the nearly $2 billion allotted for building projects at Indiana colleges, in large part because Sen. Luke Kenly, R-Noblesville, among others, felt like the community college system was underperforming in terms of academic progress and graduation rates. That’s a difficult thing to gauge, considering the system has many non-traditional students and that its top students often transfer to four-year schools before completing their associate degrees.
The school received funding from the 2017 session and directed at its most pressing needs, which did not include joining the medical school in Evansville. Ellspermann said it’s unlikely that project will be included any time soon, based on more pressing needs with current buildings throughout Indiana.
That’s a shame for this corner of the state, but you must admire the way that Ellspermann, whose home is in Ferdinand, has approached her position. We often hear from area employers, including Toyota Indiana, that they have jobs to fill if only qualified, dependable workers were available.
Ivy Tech can fill that role and seems prepared to take steps that the Legislature, students and employers should deem positive.