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Ivy Tech helps laid-off workers turn careers around

Jennie Runevitch / Eyewitness News

May 15, 2009

Bloomington - Friday is graduation day at Ivy Tech's Bloomington campus, where many students have risen above a layoff to start a new career. But the community college, which boasts a record 100,000 plus enrollment, soon may have to turn students away.

Ivy Tech graduates Tammy Burgess and Kim Wittmer share similar stories.

"I got laid off in April of 2006," Burgess said.

"We made fuel sensors for your gasoline tank," Wittmer added.

Both women lost their jobs at Bedford's Visteon plant and both turned to Ivy Tech to turn things around. Now both have new careers and new jobs.

"It was kind of like you have to do it now or not do it at all," Burgess said.

"Well, I'm 40 years old and I'm graduating with honors," Wittmer said.

They're part of the growing number of graduates who have returned to school as adults after a layoff. In fact, the college's enrollment is exploding statewide, due in part to the struggling economy.

"Anybody who foresees a layoff in their future and this is an opportunity for them, take it," said Wittmer.

"They've made me believe in myself that I could do it and that I was capable. "It's taken two and a half years, but I did it," Burgess said.

But Ivy Tech's valuable gateway to education could close for future students. The college is considering capping enrollment.

"I think there's still a strong possibility that without additional funding, that this fall, we could have to turn away students, that we could simply say we have no more room in our sections," said John Whikehart, chancellor of Ivy Tech's Bloomington campus.

The problem is that state funding levels haven't kept pace with increasing enrollment. That means less money for teachers, facilities and financial aid.

With the state legislature still without a budget, Ivy Tech's budget is unclear too. So the school is looking at contingency plans that could include capping classes.

Wittmer says a statewide cap would hurt students.

"I hope not. That's awful! That is terrible because that's what got me through!"

Whikehart agrees. He says affordable, accessible education is supposed to be Ivy Tech's mandate: shape success stories for any student who needs one.

Whikehart will co-chair a committee to study the college's options for managing larger campuses with fewer dollars. What happens in the legislature's special session could impact Ivy Tech's decision whether to cap enrollment.