For almost 50 years now, Ivy Tech Community College has opened doors for people in Fort Wayne and northeast Indiana at large.

Then and now

Ivy Tech Community College, originally the Indiana Vocational Technical College, first arrived to Fort Wayne in the spring of 1969, setting up on the third floor of the former Concordia High School on Maumee Avenue.

Indiana residents were able to attend Ivy Tech with free tuition and no more than $60 per quarter for “general fees.” Nonresidents paid $60 for 15 to 18 credit hours in addition to the general fees.

Although Ivy Tech still remains an affordable education option today, the prices have, of course, gone up over the past 50 years. For the 2019-20 academic year, Indiana residents will pay $145 per credit hour and nonresidents pay around $283.

Sticking to students

One thing that hasn’t changed much over the past half-century is the impact Ivy Tech Fort Wayne has had on the workforce.

Bob Smith was one of the very first graduates of Ivy Tech Fort Wayne. As one of five members of the 1971 graduating class, Smith earned a degree in industrial management technology during a time where getting a college degree was still optional instead of a prerequisite. In fact, when Smith started, he was a 21-year-old factory worker, and the decision to go to Ivy Tech was almost on a whim.

“Somebody said ‘Hey, there’s a new school; how would you like to take a class,’” Smith said. “And for the heck of it I said, ‘Yeah let’s take a class.’ I kept adding another class, another class and, before I know it, I was part of the way through it.”

Fast-forward to today; Joshua Holbrook is currently in the process of attaining his degree in logistics and supply-chain management. Holbrook is not the “traditional” college student in the sense that his college pursuits took place a few years after graduating high school.

“I had gone originally right out of high school, and college was not a good fit for me at that time,” Holbrook said. “I took a few years off, and now I’m in my early 30s and going back.”

What unites both Smith and Holbrook is that during their studies, they have also been able to hold down full-time jobs, but that flexibility has been achieved differently between 1969 and today.

“In order for us to make this, make that, sometimes we ran pretty late, and sometimes we even ran until 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. just to get the hours in,” Smith said.

“For me, the biggest thing is I can do my entire degree from my phone,” Holbrook said. “I have access to my books, to Word, Excel … there are very few things that actually require even a laptop.”

Smith quickly found that his new degree served as the key to open essentially any door toward employment during a time when people without degrees were starting finding it more difficult to get a full-time gig.

“During that period of time, there was (truck maker International) Harvester and a lot of other people laying off (workers), and they were moving out,” Smith said. “You had thousands of people who were off of work, so I think because I had that education, I had that degree to put my foot in the door, I had maybe a little step over someone else. That’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

His degree allowed him to work at Magnavox, International Harvester and even at the Allen County Prosecutor’s Office, after which he retired.

Holbrook is still working on his degree, but what he’s learned in his classes have already made him better at his job as a logistics specialist at Buchanan Logistics.

“It’s had a synergistic effect,” Holbrook said. “It has helped me immensely at work understanding the different elements on the back end, more of the legal aspects, things I wouldn’t typically have learned immediately.”

A college degree itself has evolved in its public image and the way people essentially value the education it represents. It has gone from being a bonus asset for a job candidate in Smith’s time to being an understood expectation for every applicant in the modern-day workforce.

“When I graduated, when you worked in a factory or in an office and you had any kind of degree, it was like ‘whoa,’” Smith said. “But today, it’s so competitive and there’s so many people and everything is so technical now, you have to have an education.”

Additionally, more people are seeing the value of places like Ivy Tech that have often been looked at skeptically for being “just” a community college. Instead, these institutions have gained a reputation as affordable options to help people increase their attainment and put them on a path for higher income and more upward mobility.

“It’s the foundation to my dreams,” Holbrook said. “It’s a foundation of a life I felt I deserved, but I was afraid to go after.”

What started as a one-building school with 131 students — with five students in his class — now caters to thousands of students every year on two large campuses in Fort Wayne with satellite campuses all over northeast Indiana to meet all sorts of students where they’re at.

“It has grown immensely,” Smith said. “Just wow. From a handful of kids to literally thousands today, it has really benefitted Indiana.”

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