Accelerated Achievement: Ivy Tech Community College's One-Year Associate Degree Program Places Low-Income and First-Generation College Students on a Faster Route to Higher Education Attainment

Article excerpt

Jesus Nino graduated from a Fort Wayne, Ind., high school in June with a 1.7 grade-point average, so college seemed like a long shot.

But he scored high enough on his course placement exam to bypass summer remedial courses and gain acceptance into a new program that puts him on a fast track to an associate degree.

Nino, along with 42 other low-income and/or first-generation college students, is a part of the inaugural class to enroll in Ivy Tech Community College's accelerated associate degree program. Each student will receive free tuition, textbooks, a laptop and a $100 weekly stipend to help cover transportation and food costs.

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Ivy Tech may be the first community college in the nation to launch an ambitious plan for students to receive an associate degree in one year. Indiana's only statewide community college will begin the program Aug. 23 at its campuses in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne.

To get through the curriculum in one year, students must treat their studies like a full-time job. In fact, they are on campus from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week and are advised to avoid the distraction of part-time employment. Nino worked three part-time jobs in high school to support himself and his family.

"(Ivy Tech officials) told us we can't work so we can concentrate on our studies. If that's something I have to do to get a degree, then I'll do it," says Nino, 19, who will be with 12 other students studying health care support at the Fort Wayne campus. "If it wasn't for all the help Ivy Tech is providing for me, I don't know if I would have been going to college."

The three-year pilot program is funded by a $2.3 million grant from the Lumina Foundation for Education in Indianapolis and a $270,000 grant from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, an agency that coordinates, plans and approves various programs and policies for public and private colleges.

The program is part of an effort to improve community college completion rates. According to the Lumina Foundation, just 46 percent of community college students receive a certificate or two-year associate degree in six years. At Ivy Tech, among the students who enrolled in 2003, 18.2 percent transferred before earning an associate degree; 15.4 percent graduated by 2009; 3.2 percent earned their degree and transferred to a four-year institution and another 6 percent were still enrolled.

The remaining 57 percent is unaccounted for because those students may have taken one or two courses to get a job, taken one class required of another college, or left.

Many community college students, including working adults, don't have enough time to devote to their studies, contributing to the low completion rates at these open-access institutions, says Lumina President and Chief Executive Jamie P. Merisotis, who is excited about this new initiative to help students stay focused on school and get to the finish line in a shorter amount of time.

"The educational experience, to do this like a job, is new," Merisotis says. "If successful, we hope it could take hold at Ivy Tech and other institutions so they can maintain on their own."

Minorities as a Priority

Initially opened in 1963 as Indiana Vocational Technical College, Ivy Tech Community College boasts the largest student body in the state with more than 150,000 students on 23 campuses. Its minority student population, now at 13 percent, has grown steadily, up to 19,636 students in fall 2009 compared with 11,882 four years earlier. African-Americans make up the largest group, accounting for 8.2 percent of enrollment, followed by Hispanics at nearly 2 percent.

Officials say diversity is an integral part of the school and the accelerated program.

For instance, nearly half of the 30 accelerated program students at the Indianapolis campus majoring in general studies and computer-information technology are Black, Latino and Native American. …