Mismatching Measures

Indiana's Ivy Tech Community College is working to hold onto federal workforce development dollars as the state now uses graduation rates as an accountability measure, which the college feels is unfair.

June 29, 2015
Welding at Ivy Tech

Ivy Tech Community College, Indiana's statewide two-year institution, has a reputation for supplying students to the workforce. But recently the college has been questioned about the success of its students and the effectiveness of training dollars it receives from the state.

The community college system is facing questions from state lawmakers and its workforce council over low graduation rates. The workforce council has set minimum state completion rates for short- and long-term programs. And based on graduation data, Ivy Tech isn't meeting those minimums. Not meeting those standards threatens the federal job-training dollars the college receives.

But Ivy Tech argues, like many community colleges across the country, that graduation rates don't tell the entire story.

"What we have here is apples talking to oranges," President Tom Snyder said, adding that transfers aren't included in graduation rates. "The good thing is we're closing the gap between what is being done in the college and what's needed in the workforce."

The council set graduation standards for all 260 of its training providers, including Ivy Tech, after federal directives were changed last year to require states to track what happens to students in workforce training programs. Indiana's new standards are a 28 percent minimum graduation rate threshold for two-year degree programs and a 60 percent rate for career-technical programs or nondegree programs, said Joe Frank, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

The state receives about $60 million a year in workforce innovation dollars that it passes on to the providers, with Ivy Tech receiving about $6.5 million, Frank said. Ivy Tech is the largest of the state's providers.

Using graduation information from the Indiana Commission of Higher Education, Ivy Tech's total completion rate is at 5.2 percent for full-time students who completed within two years and 27.7 percent for students who completed an associate degree or certificate within six years. For part-time students those numbers change to 2.1 percent within two years and 20.8 percent within six.

Based on those measurements, the college isn't meeting the workforce requirement.

But the college points to other measurements that they feel are more reflective of what happens on campuses.

For instance, using 2014 data from the National Community College Benchmark Project, Ivy Tech ranked in the top 30 percent in the country for first-time, part-time students to complete or transfer within six years -- at nearly 40 percent.

And the majority of Ivy Tech's students aren't first-time students who are seeking to complete in two years, said Jeff Fanter, the college's senior vice president for student experience, communications and marketing.

"Only 6.6 percent of them are taking enough credits to graduate in two years, 28.3 percent are on a three-year track and over 65 percent are on a six-year track," he said.

Mary Alice McCarthy, a senior policy analyst in the education policy program at New America, said graduation rates weren't meant to be used with the new workforce law.

"This is showing the dangers of mixing up data sources for accountability purposes," said McCarthy, who previously worked for both the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Labor. "Credential attainment is important, but completion and earnings are the big measures in workforce development."

Ivy Tech's graduates earn an average of about $37,700 in annual salary the first year after graduation, $43,100 annually after five years and nearly $50,000 per year after 10 years, according to the state higher education commission.

Ivy Tech said the state's workforce development program is holding off on cutting any funding while updated data are being provided.

"We view it as they have the most robust program in the state and they're the largest with the most robust infrastructure," Frank said. "We will continue to work with them to make sure they're in compliance, and they've been a great partner in the past."

Snyder is optimistic that the disconnect will be resolved over the next couple of months.

"We'll give them more appropriate data points," he said.


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