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January 2001 Column by the President

Indiana higher education enters a new era

Martin C. Jischke

President, Purdue University

This is a dynamic time to be involved in higher education in Indiana.

The national Measuring Up 2000 report, which gave Indiana four Cs and a B-minus, evaluated each state on how well it prepares, attracts and graduates students from college. It shows room for growth. At the same time, initiatives already begun are reaping benefits and suggest new opportunities.

Long before I arrived at Purdue University in the fall of 2000, Indiana leaders put in place programs to better prepare our high school students for college. We are beginning to see the fruits of those efforts: 61 percent of our high school seniors now are going on to higher education. That's a tremendous improvement. In 1966 only 37 percent went beyond high school.

As more of our Indiana students seek advanced education, we must make changes in our higher education system to accommodate them. Once again, our state leaders have taken steps in that direction. One example is the Community College of Indiana, which was launched this fall at three pilot locations: Lafayette, Evansville and Gary. A partnership between Ivy Tech State College and Vincennes University, the community college system is scheduled to expand to all 23 Ivy Tech campuses over the next five years.

The Community College should create better access to higher education. Better access can only mean good things for the state, provided we are willing to invest the new resources needed to create a statewide network of community college programs.

Any increase in our population's level of education will pay dividends in social and economic terms. As people become more educated, they earn more money, pay more taxes, become healthier, commit fewer crimes, get more involved in public services and generally become better, more productive citizens. Better yet, these improvements tend to perpetuate themselves because college-educated people almost always make sure their children get at least as good an education.

So higher education is a very good investment, not only for the individual, but also for the state and for our society.

But we do face some challenges. One of those is retaining our brightest students. In 1998, Indiana produced 353 national merit finalists. These are high school students who rank in the top 0.5 percent across the nation. Only 202 of them enrolled in Indiana colleges and universities for the following fall semester. Sixty-one of those 202 enrolled at Purdue, more than at any other institution in Indiana.

Before we Boilermakers feel too proud, though, I should confess that more than twice that many got away. You see, 149 national merit students listed Purdue as their first choice, but only 61 eventually enrolled.

What happened? We just were not competitive with scholarships.

This must change. Starting next fall, Purdue will offer 150 four-year, full-tuition scholarships to these Indiana scholars. And we will do it every year after that, so that within four years, 600 of these scholars will be attending classes in-state.

Another challenge for Indiana is to make sure our higher education system serves everyone who wants to take advantage of it. Major research universities, as represented by Purdue at West Lafayette, Indiana University at Bloomington and the IU Medical Center, are research-based and best serve well-prepared students at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Their admissions policies are becoming more selective.

But the research institutions are only one piece of our state's higher education mosaic in which every institution plays an important role. Indiana offers a variety of options to students:

• Ivy Tech is a statewide vocational college which has open enrollment and offers associate degrees in vocational and technical fields.

• The Community College will add new dimensions. In addition to doing an excellent job with vocational training, community colleges usually handle remedial education very well. In other states where I have lived and worked, they performed this work better than four-year institutions. Community colleges also are getting better at providing the first two years of undergraduate work, preparing students to transfer to four-year institutions. Any high school graduate can enroll at a community college, and this additional access can be tremendously valuable.

• Regional campuses of Purdue and IU offer associate, baccalaureate and selected graduate programs. They are designed to meet a broad range of higher education needs for their communities.

• Public universities, including Ball State, Indiana State and the University of Southern Indiana, offer diverse programs and serve students from a variety of academic backgrounds.

• The independent, private institutions enroll roughly 10 percent to 15 percent of all Indiana residents in higher education. They differ extensively in price, selectivity and academic offerings.

Everyone who wants higher education can be served in Indiana and should be served. But we should not expect every campus of every institution to meet every individual's needs. The challenge for educators and our state's governmental leaders is to make sure that this complex and multifaceted system gives all the citizens of Indiana a chance to use education to develop their full potential.

If we make sure Hoosiers are well-educated, we can be sure Indiana will be ready to prosper in the global marketplace.

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