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Obama's shout-out to community colleges appreciated at Ivy Tech

By Mike Leonard 331-4368 |
April 5, 2010

In an academic year that has bounced between the highs of record student enrollment and the lows of state funding cuts, Ivy Tech Chancellor John Whikehart was ready for some encouraging news.

He got it when President Barack Obama signed legislation providing $2 billion for job training programs at the nation’s community colleges and emphasized the critical role that community colleges should play in the country’s economic recovery.

“It’s nice to see that on the national level the federal government wants to make this kind of investment in community colleges and students, in particular,” Whikehart said. “Within Indiana, we’re seeing cutbacks in state support to our operating budget, so it’s good to see that at the national level, they see value in what we’re doing.”

Tom Snyder, the statewide Ivy Tech president, said the growth of community colleges nationally has outpaced the ability to fund them. “Here in Indiana, in two years, we’ve grown by 31 percent with generally flat funding and a drop in per-student funding of 24 percent,” he said.

Snyder said community colleges present the only logical means to address the country’s unemployment and underemployment problems. “We think the community college is part of re-engineering America,” he said. “If we’re going to put a large portion of 8 million people back to work, they’re going to need schools and training. The jobs that are being created require new skills.”

Praising far-reaching legislation that will increase financial aid for low- and middle- income students in higher education, Obama said, “We need to invest that money in our students. We need to invest in our community colleges, we need to invest in the future of this country.”

The president last month also announced the creation of a community college summit at the White House this fall, led by Jill Biden, a community college English instructor and the wife of Vice President Joe Biden.

Whikehart said it was gratifying to see the president follow through on issues he discussed during his run for the presidency. “He talked about community colleges and workforce retraining during the 2008 campaign and it’s been very rewarding to see him put what he said in the political campaign into the implementation stage,” he said.

Last summer, the president called on the nation’s community colleges to produce 5 million more graduates by 2020. Obama didn’t get from Congress the $12 billion he sought at that time. Nor did the $2 billion set aside for job training programs approach the $10 billion that was included in a House bill passed last summer.

The Bloomington Ivy Tech chancellor didn’t complain. “I’ve been with the college 19 years now and watched the transformation from vocational school to community college,” he said. “It’s remarkable to see this kind of support at the national level and, specifically, from the president.”

Tom Snyder
Tom Snyder, Ivy Tech president

John Whikehart
John Whikehart, Ivy Tech Bloomington chancellor

Copyright: 2010