GOSHEN — Two appropriations amounting to $150,000 to help the Horizon Education Alliance and Ivy Tech Community College set up scholarships for worker training were contested at Saturday’s Elkhart County Council meeting.
Elkhart County Commissioner Suzanne Weirick, who is also a member of the HEA board, asked the council for the expenditures. She said $100,000 would go to HEA and $50,000 to Ivy Tech.
County government recently contributed nearly $1.5 million to Ivy Tech to help fund the construction of an advanced manufacturing training facility at its campus on C.R. 18 near the intersection with C.R. 17. That project was started last week. Weirick’s contention was that county government should continue to support the effort to educate the county’s workforce.
Statistics about the county’s workforce were cited by Weirick.
She said just 25% of Elkhart County adults have post-secondary degrees or certifications. Twenty percent of the county’s adult population does not have a high school diploma or GED, she added. And 43% of the county’s workforce has jobs in manufacturing.
“As a county we need to look forward to the preparing for the automation industry,” Weirick said. “About 54% of our jobs in Elkhart County are prone to change to automated manufacturing. We strive to adapt to that as a county. We should strive to continue to grow and keep our workforce employed, and if they are not employable, they will lose their jobs. We currently have issues attracting additional industries because our workforce is not ready.”
Ivy Tech Chancellor David Balkin told the council, “The request specifically that we have for Ivy Tech is for $50,000 in scholarships, which are to support first-generation college attendees.”
Balkin said the average age of Ivy Tech students is 26 because that is the age when workers realize they are not going to be able to perform manual labor all of their working years.
Council member Doug Graham later quizzed Balkin about his statement on the scholarships, citing a letter from Ivy Tech that said the scholarships would be for Hispanic workers only.
“What it says here,” Graham said referencing the letter on his desk, “is that Ivy Tech is proposing $2,000 to $2,500 scholarships who are first-generation immigrant students. Further down there you say ‘this scholarship will be open to adult learners first-generation immigrants using a point-matrix rubrics to identify the best candidates.’”
Balkin told Graham “my fault,” and then said what he meant was, “We are focused on immigrant students primarily because we recognize in Elkhart County specifically our growth engine is the Hispanic population. To that end we are investing in bilingual faculty and advisers and everything we can do to help these students, traditional and non-traditional, integrate into the education system.
The chancellor also told the council the goal of Ivy Tech and HEA is to use the scholarship seed money to entice local industries to match them dollar for dollar, “to get the most bang for the buck.”
He added that the scholarship program will be just one of many that Ivy Tech has to retrain and help Indiana workers.
Elkhart County Prosecutor Vicki Becker defended the scholarship program, saying she became a member of the HEA board four years ago because she was tired of prosecuting young people for horrible crimes.
“It wasn’t because I thought everyone needed to go to college or everyone needed an advanced degree,” Becker said. “It was because I was sick and tired of prosecuting juvenile offenders for heinous crimes. And every time I looked at one of those crimes it was a situation where their parents were not engaged, they did not have education, they had fallen into substance abuse and they had fallen into anti-social attitudes and behaviors because they had no one there teaching them that success was attainable.”
She praised HEA for making a difference within the classrooms of the seven school districts in the county and urged the council to support the organization. The HEA board is made up of representatives of the seven school corporations and 14 business people, politicians and county residents.
“This is a way we can bring kiddos who have different pasts and different skills to the same playing level that we have been expecting and looking for so many years. … I believe in this project and I really do think it is worthy of my own personal investment and absolutely worthy of our county’s investment.
The council voted 5-2 to give the HEA and Ivy Tech the funds. Voting for the funding where council members Dave Hess, John Letherman, Tom Stump, Tina Wenger and Randy Yohn. Graham and Darryl Riegsecker voted against the funding.
2021 BUDGET APPROVED
The council also approved the 2021 budget. The general fund budget was set at $60.4 million, up from $55.1 million this year. When all the various county budgets are added up, the total budget approved amounts to $132.5 million.