There's a new understanding among higher education institutions of all kinds nationwide: we've come to realize that we’re stronger when we work together. Partnerships among former competitors, and collaboration among institutions that once appeared to have little in common, are becoming much more prevalent. And now, this phenomenon is taking root close to home thanks to a new joint effort between the Independent Colleges of Indiana (ICI) and Ivy Tech Community College.

There certainly are differences between Ivy Tech and the 30 ICI colleges and universities. For example, Ivy Tech is a public institution offering associate degrees and certificates, whereas ICI members are private institutions that primarily offer bachelor’s degrees. However, this point of difference also reveals our greatest strength: because of articulation agreements between Ivy Tech and ICI’s members, we have the ability – working together – to offer students from all walks of life the opportunity to experience everything college has to offer.

While it’s true that many students can reach their career goals with a short-term credential from Ivy Tech, nearly 40 percent of the community college’s students aspire to complete a bachelor’s degree after completing their associate degree. ICI colleges are an excellent choice for these students because both ICI members and Ivy Tech campuses have large contingents of first-generation college students and are uniquely student-focused, positioning them to ensure student success, helping with everything from financial aid to campus life.

For many of these students, the cost savings associated with starting at Ivy Tech makes it possible to continue on and complete a bachelor’s degree at an ICI member college. It’s truly the best of both worlds – and Indiana ultimately benefits as much as the student, given our employers’ needs for graduates with a variety of workforce-ready credentials.

Because of the tremendous potential in partnerships between ICI members and Ivy Tech, several initiatives are already underway or in the planning stages, including:

• Unique articulation agreements – Marian University and Ivy Tech Central Indiana have launched an articulation agreement that allows students not only to transfer credits but to use all the credits from their first two years at Ivy Tech towards a psychology or business bachelor’s degree. What’s important is not a course-by-course matching of exact content but an alignment of competencies – what students know and can demonstrate. This seamless transition allows students to graduate faster and lower their costs. Ivy Tech has similar 2+2 agreements with several other ICI member colleges which allow students to transfer all credit taken for the associate degree into a bachelor’s degree with no credit loss.

• Dual admissions agreements – A program has been launched that allows students to be simultaneously accepted at both University of Evansville (UE) and Ivy Tech Evansville. Available to Ivy Tech students statewide, participants complete their first two years at Ivy Tech and the last two at UE and are guided by advisers from both institutions. They have the potential of living on the UE campus, using its facilities and participating in student activities and clubs at both campuses. Students are also eligible for a special UE scholarship.

• Transfer advising – Ivy Tech Columbus houses a full-time admissions counselor from Trine University. Students who may wish to transfer to Trine are guided and motivated along the way. Best of all, students can transfer up to 89 credits –nearly three years’ worth of credit – to Trine.

• Pre-engineering program – Students at Ivy Tech Valparaiso can complete a pre-engineering program that qualifies them for automatic acceptance into Valparaiso University’s engineering program. These students also can participate in student activities on both campuses. Faculty are part of the partnership as well: Valparaiso University and Ivy Tech have shared faculty and faculty from the two institutions sit on each other’s engineering advisory boards.

• Embedded certificates – Ivy Tech Warsaw and Grace College are launching a program which will enable Grace College students to earn a technical certificate as part of a Grace program. This is designed to help students who may have a difficult time identifying an initial career pathway earn industry-recognized credentials that make them better equipped for the workforce.

Ultimately, the partnership between ICI members and Ivy Tech is a reflection of changing realities facing Indiana’s dynamic higher education and economic environments. To remain globally competitive, Indiana needs to seek individuals possessing “hard” technical skills and “soft” workplace skills, such as communication, problem-solving, creativity, critical thinking and teamwork. Simply put, our graduates must possess both qualities, so our institutions must work together. We are excited to be partners in this joint effort, and we are committed to looking for new ways to collaborate in the future so that our state, and our students, can prosper.

Dr. Sue Ellspermann is president of Ivy Tech Community College and Dr. David Wantz is president and chief executive officer of Independent Colleges of Indiana.