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Column: Will Ivy Tech become market-driven school?

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Now that Ivy Tech Community College’s physical empire has been built, with a branch in almost every county, it’s time to determine what role that institution will play in providing education for Hoosiers.

Once upon a time, Ivy Tech was a vocational extension of high school and a second chance for those who required remediation of reading, writing and arithmetic skills. But that has changed. Today, Ivy Tech also offers more advanced technical training as well as a pathway to higher education.

There is, however, a trend across the nation (as reported in USA Today, June 5) for community colleges to become four-year, bachelor degree-granting institutions. Does this mean, over time, Ivy Tech’s many locations will augment their offerings to include sports and other studies comparable with those now available at Ball State, Indiana State and branches of Indiana and Purdue universities?

Academic offerings may start small, but as with children, they often grow in size and complexity without adding depth. Thus, programs move from certificates to degrees, and degrees to higher degrees, until we have doctorates in the legal and anthropological

aspects of 16th-century medical management of mites.

It’s easy to see how this can happen. More areas of study (and who is to say that sports are not an entire universe of study?) mean more faculty, support staff and facilities. Ah, facilities: construction contracts for friends of legislators.

Four-year programs need students. Why not out-of-state students, even foreign students? They can pay higher tuition fees to support the programs and occupy student housing. This works for our major campuses and already has been emulated at smaller locations.

The lust for learning by students is not as great as the lust for living large by administrators.

Some will defend this extension of education empires as necessary to the times. We will be told how important education is to the future of our workforce and the state’s competitive position in the world economy. This undeniable truth will not necessarily mean that our educational offerings will be up to the task. Again, construction may trump content.

Ivy Tech, just like other schools, has to balance the market with an education-based curriculum. Schools once had ideas of what should be taught to prepare a student for work and life beyond work.

The educator set the course of study. Today, the school’s admissions and development (fundraising) offices often drive the curriculum. The eternal issue is how to satisfy short-term demand in schools built on long-term capital of teachers and knowledge.

Will Ivy Tech be a market-driven school? If businesses dictate what is taught, there would be less need for a permanent faculty and fixed facilities. Flexibility becomes the mantra. But does that sort of education benefit our society? Shouldn’t it be paid for by business? Does that work in a state that is eliminating business taxes?

Morton Marcus is an economist, formerly with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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