Tuition-free community college was a key piece of President Joe Biden's $3.5 trillion Build Back Better bill – until it wasn't. The administration dropped the proposal last month as it trimmed the human infrastructure package to $1.75 trillion.
The plan would have provided $45.5 billion for states to offer two years of free community college tuition to every student over the next five years.
Fortunately, Indiana's statewide community college system took steps earlier this year to make its programs more affordable, using $25 million available to the state from the federal American Rescue Plan. Ivy Tech's Ivy+ program covers the cost of course materials and caps tuition at $4,500 per year for as many credit hours as a full-time student would like to take.
Micah Weller, who is studying agriculture at Ivy Tech Fort Wayne, is thrilled with the new program.
“Ivy+ has definitely benefited me because I don't have to worry about paying for classes after 12 credits,” he said. “It's allowed me to load up with classes and make sure I'm going to graduate on time. Plus, it saves me a couple hundred dollars for each additional class. Not having to pay for textbooks is awesome, too!”
Statewide, Ivy Tech has 55,331 students enrolled in a cumulative 431,570 credit hours this fall. Textbooks and material costs would have totaled $14.4 million without the subsidy. Students can save more and graduate early by enrolling in additional credit hours at no additional cost.
In addition to the Ivy+ incentives, Ivy Tech's tuition was frozen at $149.55 per credit hour for the current academic year and the 2022-23 academic year. After next year, textbook and materials costs will be capped at $19 per credit hour.
Mary Jane Michalak, Ivy Tech's vice president for public affairs, said in an email that faculty and staff are reporting positive feedback from students. A Kokomo administrator called it “a fantastic response to the question of college affordability,” directly supporting student success.
The American Rescue Plan, approved last year, brought $6 billion to Indiana and $40 billion to colleges and universities nationwide. Indiana's U.S. senators, Todd Young and Mike Braun, did not support the latest COVID-19 relief plan. Neither did 3rd District Rep. Jim Banks.
With its earlier rounds of federal pandemic relief funds, Ivy Tech used about $17.2 million to offset state funding cuts made at the onset of the pandemic and $8.3 million to make up for a revenue shortfall from lower enrollment in the summer and fall of 2020.
– Karen Francisco, editorial page editor