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Column: Indiana’s answer to skills gap needs room to grow

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Indiana is finding itself in a conundrum. There is much talk and discussion about the difficulty in finding skilled and professional workers for positions today and those that will be vacated by retiring workers in the coming years. This phenomenon has been dubbed “the skills gap” by national experts.

Debates are being waged over how best to bridge this gap — and rightly so. Employers with whom I cross paths are frustrated because they cannot expand due to a shortage of qualified workers. This shortage is almost entirely in the midskilled manufacturing sector, which tends to be higher-paying jobs. This hurts everyone. It erodes the government tax base and bloats the welfare rolls.

The Lumina Foundation has heard these cries for help. It has committed to increasing the proportion of Americans who have high-quality, college-level learning. The foundation’s mission is to increase college attainment in the U.S. to 60 percent by 2025.

Combine the need for 625,000 more degree holders with the state’s enrollment trends in higher education, and it becomes apparent that Ivy Tech is the answer to the “skills gap” problem. Ivy Tech has grown by more than 72,000 students in the last seven years. All other institutions have grown only by 10,000. More high school graduates from public schools are choosing Ivy Tech over any other higher education institution in the state, as evidenced by 8,870 students from the Class of 2011 choosing Ivy Tech. Those choosing IU-Bloomington numbered 4,452. Those choosing Purdue-West Lafayette numbered 3,362.

Roughly 120,000 Ivy Tech students and their families are indirectly answering the skills gap conundrum for Indiana and its leaders. The market has been speaking loud and clear. Our students and their families benefit enormously by our affordable tuition and pathways to four-year degrees. But the benefits don’t stop there.

Indiana taxpayers will save $33 million for every 1,000 students who earn an associate degree at Ivy Tech, then transfer to a four-year school. This is a significant savings compared to students following a more traditional pathway. Ivy Tech students are more likely to remain in their communities after graduation to work and raise their families. Ivy Tech graduates, once transferred, also earn higher grade-point averages and are more likely to complete their bachelor’s degree than students without an associate degree.

Regionally, we need a new facility. The region is currently operating with a space deficit of about 200,000 square feet. Ivy Tech’s current main facility, Poling Hall in Columbus, just turned 30. The building requires updating. The capital project we are proposing would ease the facility crunch but would still not bring our campus up to the state standard for space per student. I remain hopeful that Ivy Tech in Columbus will receive an appropriation to expand our facilities in 2015.

It is clear that more Hoosiers are choosing Ivy Tech as a means to earn a degree and begin a career or as a means to make a bachelor’s degree more affordable by transferring Ivy Tech credits. The community college makes college degrees at whatever level — associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate — more affordable through pathways and partnerships we have with universities throughout Indiana.

Ivy Tech has become the answer for the “skills gap” problem. The challenge now is facing Indiana and its leaders. The community college cannot do the work necessary to fill that gap without help.

I urge you to get involved in this conversation and ask Indiana policy makers and city and state leaders to understand that an Ivy Tech building project will make a difference in their businesses and in the lives of countless Hoosiers.

John Hogan is chancellor of Ivy Tech Community College — Columbus/Franklin. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net

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