Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

January 31, 2014

MICHAEL McROBBIE: IU regional campuses are critical to Indiana

They're vital to educating nearby residents


Kokomo Tribune

---- — IU’s regional campuses have a long history of providing high-quality educational services and have evolved into valuable community resources across Indiana.

As classes begin for the spring semester at Indiana University campuses across the state, nearly 33,000 students — about one-third of our entire student population — can be found enrolled at IU regional campuses.

IU’s regional campuses and centers in New Albany, Gary, Richmond, Kokomo, South Bend and Columbus and our programs at Fort Wayne are increasingly a first choice for some of the best high school students in Indiana. Those locations have seen large gains in the number of students earning Indiana Academic Honors degrees and those being named 21st Century Scholars by the state.

Overwhelmingly, our regional campuses serve Hoosier students, most of whom live in close proximity to their chosen campus and, in many instances, are first-generation and non-traditional students. These include many bright young adults who have just graduated from high school but also include many older students returning to education — and they have strong and deep ties to Indiana.

They are exactly the population that is of critical importance if Indiana is to meet its ambitious goals of dramatically increasing the percentage of college-educated residents.

All too often, though, they would fall through the cracks of the higher educational system.

Just like their peers on our Bloomington and Indianapolis campuses, students at our regional campuses covet the value and quality of an IU degree. They also are attracted to the intimate setting and convenience afforded by our regional campuses. And once they graduate, 80 percent of these new IU alums remain in their home regions, becoming engaged citizens, valued employees and community leaders.

Beyond serving as an integral part of IU’s broad mission to educate students from Indiana, our regional campuses are invaluable community resources and partners, in large part due to our long history of providing top-notch higher education services throughout the state.

Indeed, IU’s legacy of regional education dates back nearly a century to the days when IU professors from Bloomington would travel to cities such as Kokomo and South Bend to teach classes, and to a time when IU classes were first offered in secondary school buildings in partnership with the Gary public school system.

Over the decades, our regional campuses have grown and matured along with their home communities and have evolved into hubs of educational, economic, civic and cultural activity across the state. Increasingly, course offerings at our regional campuses reflect the economic needs of their home regions — from the popular nursing program offered at IU Northwest to a new bachelor’s degree program in social work at IU South Bend to the highly regarded part-time MBA program at IU Southeast, to name just a few.

Enrollment at our regional campuses has shown growth in recent years, reflecting a strong demand and an enduring recognition of the value of an IU degree. All of our regional campuses are at or near record levels of enrollment; some, such as IU Kokomo and IU East in Richmond, have enjoyed annual double-digit percentage growth in recent years. At the same time, our regional campuses have matured to offer much more of the total student experience. For example, on-campus housing is now available on some of our regional campuses, and we offer intercollegiate sports on all of our regional campuses.

The Red Wolves at IU East, the Cougars at IU Kokomo, the Redhawks at IU Northwest, the Titans at IU South Bend, the Grenadiers at IU Southeast and the Mastodons at IPFW all bring pride to their regions and provide students with wonderful athletics opportunities. In fact some of our teams, such as the men’s basketball team at IU Southeast and the women’s volleyball team at IU East, have developed into established powers in their divisions in recent years.

Beyond that, IU continues to invest in facilities across its regional campuses, thanks in large part to the support of our alumni and from the state of Indiana. Every IU regional campus has opened a new building or facility in recent years or has one in planning. Among those are the recently dedicated state-of-the-art Milt and Jean Cole Fitness Center at IU Kokomo, as well as the extensively renovated Education and Arts building on the IU South Bend campus.

Additionally, we are moving ahead with plans to replace the former Tamarack Hall at IU Northwest with a new facility that will be used as classroom space for both IU and Ivy Tech. Vital maintenance also has been accelerated on all regional campuses through significant new funds provided for this purpose in the last state budget.

As a result, IU’s regional campuses today are powerful economic drivers that combine to account for more than $650 million in economic activity annually and generate 4,500 direct and another 3,800 indirect jobs.

As we look to the future, our intent is to strengthen the already vital role that IU’s regional campuses play in building a highly educated citizenry in the state of Indiana. With that in mind, we are in the midst of an ambitious initiative to systematically develop shared goals and leverage the collective strengths of our regional campuses.

The shared vision is designed to ensure that our regional campuses will remain accessible, affordable educational institutions that prepare students for productive and satisfying careers. We also are committed to increasing graduation rates and reducing the time it takes for students to earn their degrees by creating innovative and flexible learning environments.

For example, we are in the process of expanding and standardizing online course offerings through our IU Online program, which will greatly aid non-traditional college students’ efforts to remain on track to earn their degrees. At the same time, we are working closely with institutions across the state to make it easier for students to transfer into IU’s regional campuses from community colleges and other institutions.

These efforts, and many more that are articulated in our Blueprint for Student Attainment, finalized in 2011, provide a clear and compelling vision for IU’s regional campuses well into the future. That vision, I am pleased to say, is in the hands of a very capable leadership team led by Executive Vice President for University Academic Affairs John Applegate and the IU regional chancellors, several of whom are new to IU in the past year and all of whom bring a wealth of energy, experience and ideas to their roles.

As the state’s flagship public university, we recognize that IU has a special responsibility to support the current and long-term prosperity of the state of Indiana by offering a relevant, affordable first-rate education to as many qualified learners as possible. Simply put, we cannot completely fulfill that mission without continuing to invest in a strong and growing regional campus system.

I am extremely proud of everyone who works so hard every day to make our regional campuses vital places in their home regions and for all that they contribute to the overall success of Indiana University. Likewise, our success in this area wouldn’t be possible without the continued support and generosity of our regional campus alumni and friends.

The history of IU’s regional campuses is one of leadership and partnership across the university and across the state. Countless faculty, administrators, alumni, staff and students have built the regional campuses into what they are today. They have helped build vibrant educational communities that are critical to the success of their local communities.

Michael A. McRobbie is president of Indiana University.