The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic “I Have a Dream” speech 50 years ago, at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, referenced the Emancipation Proclamation. He spoke of the "beacon of hope" promised in Lincoln’s words — and the need for our nation to make good on that promise.
The same year King spoke in Washington — 1963 — a new institution was founded here in Indiana: Indiana Vocational Technical College. While it was launched with a multifaceted mission, the college was chartered in no small part to make higher education accessible to all of our state’s citizens.
Today, in 2013, not only do we celebrate the golden anniversary of King’s speech, but also what is now known as Ivy Tech Community College. And while it is clear that progress must still be made, we have come a long way toward realizing the dream of equality in America. It is equally clear that Ivy Tech and the American community college at large have played a significant role in delivering on that dream.
It is well understood that in our nation, a college education provides the single best opportunity for improved employability, earnings, and quality of life. As tuition costs have skyrocketed, however, many colleges have moved beyond the reach of the average American family and beyond reality for lower-income households. The one option that remains feasible is the community college.
Here in Indiana, for example, Ivy Tech’s annual tuition cost for a full-time student is $3,560 per year. At other Indiana colleges, a conservative average is $13,000 per year.
Ivy Tech has become the largest college in Indiana, serving about 200,000 Hoosiers annually. This reflects trends nationally, as community colleges have become the first choice of a growing number of students, serving 45 percent of all U.S. undergraduates.
What makes the community college reflective of King’s dream is its unmatched ability to democratize higher education. Consider the community college’s impact on these populations as compared to the undergraduate population as a whole:
- 48 percent of America’s community college students are minorities, compared to just 31 percent of all American undergraduates.
- Among America’s undergraduates, 42 percent of African Americans, 56 percent of Native Americans, 49 percent of Hispanics, and 44 percent of Asians/Pacific Islanders attend community colleges.
- Nearly 60 percent of all Indiana residents attending institutions of higher education are enrolled at Ivy Tech.
- 59 percent of community college students attend part time, allowing them to maintain family or work responsibilities while in school.
In short, the face of the community college student is very different than the face of the U.S. undergraduate at large. As such, the opportunities that come with a college degree remain within the grasp of a more diverse population.
Let’s celebrate Ivy Tech and the American community college as a whole, then, as a reminder of King’s legacy. Thanks to the community college, his dream lives on — and, therefore, so does the American dream.