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How long should it take to get through college? An O'Bannon Institute debate

By Mike Leonard
331-4368 |
April 9, 2010

Indiana State University President Daniel J. Bradley says the least valuable educational degree program is the one not completed.

But whether it makes sense to rush the amount of time it takes to complete a degree program was the subject of considerable debate in a higher education forum today during Ivy Tech’s O’Bannon Institute for Community Service.

The Indiana Commission for Higher Education has charged both the state’s community colleges and baccalaureate degree campuses with monitoring the time it takes its students to earn degrees and make efforts to steer students toward swifter degree completion.

Ball State University President Jo Ann Gora said her institution has embraced the commission’s mandate and moved to create 34 different majors in which a degree can be completed in three years. Ironically, she said, one of the most rigorous programs — nursing — is where Ball State is seeing the most three-year success.

But at the same time, Gora said, Ball State is emphasizing what it calls immersive education in which students are required to take internships and work study programs that put them in “real world” problem-solving situations. Those programs motivate students to think about the value of their degrees while inspiring students to take time out for internships and foreign study programs that extend the time it takes to complete a baccalaureate degree.

ISU’s Bradley offered up his own family’s experience as an example of valuing the speed of degree completion at the cost of pragmatism. “My one son graduated in 3 1/2 years but was back within a year getting another degree because he made a mistake with his major,” he said. “You can make the mistake of trying to finish too fast.”

Ivy Tech senior vice president Don Doucette said when he sees a 35-year-old working mother take five years to complete an associate’s degree he does not in any way see that as failure.

Similarly, Indiana University’s John Applegate said students at IU’s regional campuses often balance work with school and should be lauded for their efforts. But, he said, “Completion is important. It’s both completing in the sense of a coherent program so you are getting the full value of the credential but also completing as a good habit, a good work ethic. It’s absolutely essential in the work force for both of those reasons.”

The higher education officials speaking at Ivy Tech’s panel today agreed that cuts in state funding have hurt programs and services in the short term and caused them all to look at the long-range future of higher education. “The big thing we need to be convincing people is that we have an acute problem and a long-term problem,” ISU’s Bradley said. “I’ve told people don’t be focusing on your shoelaces because that’s not where we need to be focused. We need to be looking out several years.”

Ball State’s Gora said, “One of the things I think is really important to note is how affordable college is in Indiana,” she said. “You can complete a degree at Ball State for less than $30,000 and it lasts a lifetime. Some people will spend that much on a car that lasts five years.”

Gora sounded a cautionary note on the future of education in the U.S., however. “The 20th century was called the American Century because the percent of individuals completing college tripled over a 100-year period. At the end of the 20th century America was second in percentage of college graduates. Second behind Canada with 39 percent,” she said. “We’re now seventh. And, more telling, we’re highest in the 35-60 year-olds.

“The rest of the world has figured it out and America is struggling,” Gora said. “A college degree or associate degree is critical for a successful career.”

Copyright: 2010

Fiscal issues dominate school superintendent panel discussion

By Andy Graham
331-4215 |
April 10, 2010

Monroe County Community School Corp. Superintendent J.T. Coopman affirmed his district intends to pursue a funding referendum, and fiscal issues dominated a panel discussion Friday at Ivy Tech-Bloomington’s O’Bannon Institute for Community Service.

“I don’t think we have an option other than to have a referendum,” said Coopman, whose district has authorized a $5.8 million cut in its 2010-11 general fund budget. “Indiana has not been a referendum state before now, but now local communities are either going to agree or disagree to support funding for their public schools.
“I would absolutely (say), in the case of the Monroe County Community School Corp., that conversation is already taking place.”

Friday’s conversation about K-12 education stemmed from a panel featuring Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, Coopman and fellow local superintendents Steve Kain of Richland-Bean Blossom, Ty Mungle of Eastern-Greene and Dennis Turner of North Lawrence schools. It was moderated by Ivy Tech Community College state trustee Anne Shane.

This year’s O’Bannon Institute theme is “K-16 Education: Challenges and Opportunities in the New Decade” and Kain drew the only significant round of spontaneous applause during his panel’s segment when he tied current challenges to the state’s 2008 decision to take K-12 operational funding off of a stable, predictable property tax foundation.

“One of the worst things the politicians did was remove the operation of the schools from the property tax,” Kain said. “It was a great political move (that) made a lot of people happy, but I don’t think they realized the changes that it could bring about. Those of us in education were aware of what it could mean and, when the economy then tanked, some of our fears were realized.”

Lowered income and sales tax revenue during the recession exacerbated the situation, Indiana was compelled to carve $298 million statewide from K-12 general fund budgets, about 90 percent of which are devoted to salaries and benefits, in December. That averaged out to around a 4.5 percent cut for districts statewide,
Local districts were affected to differing degrees. Eastern-Greene, which had an enrollment increase and additional funding following those students into the district, was better able to absorb December’s blow than was the MCCSC, which lost enrollment. But Eastern-Greene’s relative lack of industrial tax base, as Mungle noted, makes it more susceptible to the limitations imposed by property tax caps regarding future funding for capital projects, transportation and other needs.

Bennett complimented the superintendents for capturing the nature of the financial challenges, but said that needed reforms are still coming, regardless, in keeping with the goals of President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. They have favored more competition and alternative opportunities for students — through charter schools and other means — more rigorous standards, more merit-based evaluations for teachers and more flexibility in collective bargaining.

“No question the economy poses a challenge none of us foresaw five years ago,” said Bennett, who acknowledged favoring both property tax caps and the removal of K-12 operational funding from property taxes. “... But this whole issue is change. I think our president and secretary of education are getting it right in terms of education reform. And that change is coming in the face of real economic challenges.

“We can’t reduce our expectations and our standards. We can’t reduce educational opportunities due to limited funding. We have to find ways to do it. Is it easy? No. But we’re fortunate, in this state, that we have a number of good problem-solvers in our school superintendents.”

Coopman said community consultation was important in developing solutions. He cited project-based learning — the basis for Bloomington’s New Tech High School — new programming for at-risk students and curriculum choices geared for local industries such as Bloomington’s life-sciences community as some things that might help shape the MCCSC’s future. “We can either lament the past or look forward and make plans,” he said.
Bennett would have centered more of Friday’s discussion around that.

“I don’t want this to reflect at all on the people on the panel or the people who organized this, but if I had one misgiving it is that we spent a considerable amount of time talking money and less time talking addressing ideas and issues,” Bennett said. “I wish we could have further explored how we improve student achievement and growth, how we have fewer students coming into college in need of remediation, and so on.”

But Coopman noted money is likely to remain central to further K-12 conversations. “This is just the beginning, not the end, of our financial challenges,” he said. “I probably should have mentioned, when talking about the need for a referendum, that we’re already trying to plan for funding reductions in 2011 and we’re looking at 2012 as even worse (after federal stimulus money disappears). If something doesn’t change, in the interim, the state is going to have to come up with about $2 billion just to keep us even.”

Copyright: 2010

Video: 1 on 1 with Arianna Huffington at O'Bannon Institute

H-T Report
April 10, 2010

Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post and nationally syndicated columnist was the capstone guest speaker for Ivy Tech’s annual O’Bannon Institute for Community Service Friday in Bloomington. Watch the attached video for highlights of her one-on-one O'Bannon Institute conversation with H-T Editor Bob Zaltsberg.

According to a release from Ivy Tech, Huffington is the author of 12 books. She is also co-host of Left, Right and Center, public radio’s political roundtable program. In 2005, she launched The Huffington Post, a news and blog Web site that has become widely read, linked to and frequently-cited on the Internet. She was named to Time magazine’s list of world’s most influential people in 2006. Huffington was named as one of the most influential women in media by Forbes magazine in 2009. She has made guest appearances on numerous television shows including The Oprah Winfrey Show, Nightline, Real Time with Bill Maher, Inside Politics, Larry King Live, Hardball, MSNBC’s Countdown, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and The O’Reilly Factor.

Arianna Huffington
Arianna Huffington participates in a Q&A session during Friday's O'Bannon Institute session at Ivy Tech.
Jeremy Hogan | Herald-Times

Arianna Huffington
Arianna Huffington, right, takes a couple minutes to return a phone call after participating in a Q&A at Ivy Tech. Jeremy Hogan | Herald-Times

Copyright: 2010