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Ivy Tech right blend of education, economy

Of the many threats that face our country today, such as growing federal indebtedness and the seeming inability of our elected officials to manage this problem, there is a pressing threat closer to home. This threat has proven particularly disabling for many young adults at a time when they need to be focused on pursuing their career studies without constant concern about the size of their educational indebtedness.

I have had a growing concern regarding the increasing cost of college tuition and the indebtedness that many students take on as a result. Most students understand that a college education will improve their prospects for a better-paying job someday.

However, our system of college education has grown increasingly expensive, and there is a great temptation to borrow money for tuition and other expenses with the expectation of getting a job and paying it back later.

But today, the expectation of finding such a position in their area of training is being met with disappointment and frustration.

The good-paying jobs just aren’t there in abundance, yet the indebtedness remains. This has broad economic implications.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the average debt for all student loan borrowers was $23,300 in 2011. Ten percent owe more than $54,000, while 3 percent owe more than $100,000.

Some student borrowers have questioned whether their investment was a wise decision. Many have “debt regret” as they ponder whether they wouldn’t have been better off without college, and therefore avoiding the need to secure any school loans.

Agreement with this theory may not be the best, forward-thinking response, though. A recent study by Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce indicates that by 2020, the percentage of jobs that won’t require a post–high school credential will shrink to a mere 36 percent of all U.S. jobs.

What students need is an acceptable compromise that makes higher education accessible, affordable and achievable. Fortunately for millions of Hoosiers, the answer has been residing in their backyards for the past 50 years. That right-fit compromise is Ivy Tech Community College.

The statewide system readily accomplishes these essential objectives, and it accomplishes them while providing a quality education at the same time.

The argument of affordability is a simple comparison. In 2010-11, the average tuition for a public two-year college was $2,713, compared with $7,605 at public four-year institutions, according to a 2011 report by the College Board.

It doesn’t take a mathematician to recognize the obvious difference. Greater affordability translates to fewer student loan obligations.

Ivy Tech also provides credits that transfer. So whether students fulfill their career-preparation goals at Ivy Tech or view it as a stepping stone to higher pursuits, their occupational goals can be within reach more easily. Flexible course delivery with online and hybrid classes helps deliver on this promise.

But perhaps the most fundamental criterion is access to higher education. Ivy Tech is an open-enrollment institution that serves the most complex student body in Indiana’s higher education system. Seventy percent of its students receive financial aid; 73 percent are working adults; 21 percent are single parents; and nearly 25,000 are minority students. Regardless of personal circumstances, the students who put forth the necessary effort in this environment will be the ones who succeed.

And, to repeat myself one more time, they will be the ones who are less financially indebted given their chosen path.

This awakening alone should serve as an alarm that merits a response.

Dr. Robert Dettmer is a retired nephrologist after 23 years with Indiana Medical Associates, and chairman of Ivy Tech Community College Northeast’s Regional Board of Trustees. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.

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