INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Ivy Tech Community College spent thousands of dollars and vetted dozens of applicants while searching for a new president to lead Indiana’s community college system.
But in the end, the college’s board of trustees picked Gov. Mike Pence’s first choice: his onetime running mate and former Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann, who stepped down in March as Pence was gearing up for a tough re-election against former Democratic House Speaker John Gregg.
On Wednesday, the Pence-appointed Ivy Tech Board of Trustees — five of whom are up for reappointment in July – voted to select Ellspermann over two other finalists without opposition.
Supporters say Ellspermann, who was a rapidly rising star in the state GOP, is eminently qualified. She holds a doctorate in industrial engineering and ran her own consulting firm before she was elected to the Indiana House in 2010. She was tapped just two years later to join Pence’s gubernatorial ticket.
But the move also saves Pence, who called Ellspermann an “ideal” candidate for the college job months before she resigned as lieutenant governor, from a politically embarrassing situation amid a reported rift between the two over social issues and the likelihood of a bruising campaign.
Ellspermann, a former adjunct instructor, said politics were only a recent career move and that academia has always been on her “bucket list.”
“I brought credentials that stood on their own,” Ellspermann said, adding that an Ivy Tech trustee first approached her about the job last August.
“This is where I want to be,” she said. “There will always be people who will want there to be a deeper or another story to it.”
College officials say in the fall they launched a search for the next president, which included a $120,000 contract with a headhunting company. On Wednesday, they stressed how thorough they were in their selection process.
“Even though we are appointed by the governor, we are appointed by the governor because of our integrity, because of our passion for what Ivy Tech does for the state of Indiana,” trustees chairwoman Paula Hughes said.
Ellspermann will face a daunting task heading up the community college system. Ivy Tech has drawn scrutiny for low graduation rates and declining enrollment under outgoing President Tom Snyder, who had led the system’s more than 30 campuses since 2007.
Questions over Ivy Tech’s low graduation rates and a 25 percent enrollment drop over the past three years prompted state legislators last year to put the college’s construction plans on hold. Lawmakers also directed the Indiana Commission for Higher Education to review and possibly restructure Ivy Tech programs that had low graduation rates.
Snyder has blamed the graduation rate troubles on the school having mostly part-time students, with thousands transferring to four-year colleges without completing Ivy Tech degree programs.
State reports last year show 5.2 percent of full-time Ivy Tech students complete an associate degree within two years, with 27.7 percent finishing within six years. For part-time students, 2.1 percent graduate within two years and 20.8 percent do so in six years.
Before its recent decline, Ivy Tech had seen an enrollment boom of about 70 percent in seven years, reaching a peak of some 110,000 students attending at least part time in the fall of 2011.
Snyder said much of the drop since then has come from older students being unable to afford tuition and instead choosing to take jobs that become available.
Ellspermann said Wednesday that employers are “struggling to find qualified, skilled” workers. She said Ivy Tech needs to figure out what jobs exist and how to connect its students.
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