Indiana Higher Ed Officials Discuss Plans to Convince Hoosiers to Get Degrees

Representatives from the state’s public higher education institutions said high costs is a main deterrent.

This is a photo of a presentation at an Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute luncheon.
Representatives from Indiana, Purdue, Ball State and Vincennes universities, as well as Indiana State and Ivy Tech Community College, discuss higher education costs and retention plans during a panel presentation at an Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute luncheon on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023, in Indianapolis. (Casey Smith/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

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Officials from Indiana’s public colleges and universities agreed Thursday that their schools need to do a better job at convincing Hoosier students of the value of four-year degrees.

The discussion took place during the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute’s annual luncheon in downtown Indianapolis.

Representatives from Indiana, Purdue, Ball State and Vincennes universities, as well as Indiana State and Ivy Tech Community College, conceded that rising tuition costs are deterring thousands of students from post-high school educations.

“How do we demonstrate the value of the education?” asked Christopher Ruhl, chief financial officer and treasurer at Purdue University. “Why would I spend all this money and incur all this debt? That’s what students are asking. And we’ve also got to sell this better and make sure the degree is worth the value. What’s your return on investment? Is this a good value? We hope at Purdue the answer is a resounding yes, but we have to continue focusing on that.”

More student aid — and transparency about costs

Despite pushback from some state lawmakers and budget officials, Indiana’s public colleges and universities are slated to increase tuition and fees over the biennium — up to 4.9% per year — according to information provided to state budget regulators this summer.

The revelation has since put the state’s higher education officials in the hot seat and prompted calls for Indiana schools to renew efforts to make degrees more affordable and valuable for students.

Concerns also surround Indiana’s declining college-going rate. The state’s higher education commissioner indicated in June that Indiana’s already dismal college-going rate has declined by roughly another half-percent.

Dominick Chase, senior vice president for Ivy Tech Community College (Photo from Ivy Tech’s website)

Data released last year showed that only half of Indiana’s 2020 high school graduates pursued some form of college education beyond high school. The drop marked the state’s lowest college-going rate in recent history, but the decline has been ongoing for the last five years.

That’s compared to five years ago, when 65% of Indiana’s high school graduates pursued some form of higher education.

Dominick Chase, a senior vice president for Ivy Tech Community College, said Indiana institutions “want to keep prices low as possible,” not just for tuition, but for other expenses, too.

“No one likes to be surprised by the end of the process when you have fees you weren’t expecting at the beginning,” he said, adding that’s why Ivy Tech strives to “be transparent at the front about how much it’s going to cost.”

The state’s largest public postsecondary institution is trying to ease the financial burden on students by keeping textbook costs down, he noted. This fall, eligible students are assessed just $17 per credit hour for textbooks. Next year, that fee will drop to $16 per credit hour.

Dwayne Pinkney, Indiana University’s executive vice president for finance and administration, emphasized that IU’s tuition prices are among the lowest in the Big 10, and that the school is “committed to getting institutional aid” to as many students as possible.

“We certainly recognize that tuition increases create challenges for students and families,” he said. “We’re making sure we’re doing everything we can.”

Still, Pinkney doubled down that “investments” in the state’s schools still offer “great returns.” He said 80% or more of the university’s funds are needed to compensate “the excellent faculty, researchers and support staff who provide the best opportunities for our students.”

Anand Marri, Ball State’s interim provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said utility costs are also on the rise, affecting some schools’ budgets. Even though the Muncie school has the largest geothermal system in the country, utility costs have increased by more than 5%, he said.

Marri added that university research shows a four-year degree provides more than $1.7 million to a graduate over their lifetime, and that schools “have to get that message across to an increasingly skeptical audience.”

Even so, Chase recognized how easy it is “to get on YouTube now and learn things faster.”

Indiana State University vice president Diann McKee (Photo from McKee’s LinkedIn)

“I don’t think, as a consumer in this day in age, that we’d want to take this length of time to learn something,” he said of traditional college degrees. “Students want to do more, faster.”

Vincennes University President Charles Johnson agreed, and said the state’s schools can collaborate even more, given “there are multiple ways to get the same bachelor’s degree.”

Indiana State University Vice President Diann McKee said focusing on higher education pathways is especially important for attractions and retaining first generation and Pell Grant-eligible students.

“Those are the students we primarily serve,” McKee said. “It’s really important for us, and for them, to make sure we’re maintaining affordability for four-year degrees.”

Prospects for new Indianapolis campus

Also discussed during the Thursday meeting was the dissolution of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). Following a 53-year partnership, the school will be separated into two — Indiana University Indianapolis and Purdue University in Indianapolis — beginning in July 2024.

University officials reiterated Thursday that the split will help each school expand their academic and research portfolios, in addition to making a positive impact on the state’s economy.

Dan Hasler, chief operating officer for Purdue in Indianapolis, said the restructured urban campus won’t have its own chancellor. Instead, the goal is for Boilermakers and faculty at the Indianapolis location to be “in sync” with the flagship West Lafayette campus.

The Indianapolis extension will especially focus on various “flavors” of engineering degrees, as well as other science and business-related majors.

He further noted that 80% of students who apply to Purdue’s West Lafayette campus to do computer science get rejected – not because they aren’t qualified, but because the university “is out of space.” The Indianapolis location is a chance to give those students the education they want, Hassler continued.

Between 800 and 1,100 new first-year students are expected in Indianapolis in Fall 2024, with the goal that most students will be residential on the campus in the coming years.

As Purdue looks forward, Hasler said the university is hoping to introduce additional fields of study, including in agriculture and motorsports engineering — given the close proximity to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

On the Indiana University side, Michael Huber, vice president of university relations, said the Indianapolis campus will help meet “significant demand” for health and life sciences. While the 65-mile corridor running from West Lafayette to Indianapolis has become what some are calling the “Hard Tech Corridor,” Huber said IU is coining the stretch of Interstate 69 between Bloomington and Indianapolis the “Life Science Corridor.”

To help, new applied research partnerships with Eli Lilly, also located in Indianapolis, are in the works, he said.

Additional libraries and health services are also coming together on the campus that can be shared by students at both universities, he said.

The two university officials said the combined central Indiana campus should help increase retention of current students, as well as recent graduates.

IU Indianapolis announced its own initiative last month to offer direct admission to Indianapolis Public Schools students who have a grade point average of at least 3.0. Huber said the program has already garnered a “flood” of interest from other Marion County high schools who want the same opportunity for their students.

“We’re banking on relationships,” Hasler added, referring to collaborations in Indianapolis between the universities and industry.

But he emphasized that Indiana-based companies “have to compete,” too. That means more internships, apprenticeship programs and other incentives will need to come together to better “woo” students to stay in the Hoosier state.

Indiana Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Indiana Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Niki Kelly for questions: info@indianacapitalchronicle.com. Follow Indiana Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

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