PUC looks to academic athletes to boost full-time enrollment

2013-04-01T00:00:00Z 2013-04-02T00:29:04Z PUC looks to academic athletes to boost full-time enrollmentCarmen McCollum carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

In the competition of full-time enrollment, degree completions and financial strength, Purdue University Calumet officials are looking at attracting student in its athletics program.

"The rules have changed, and we need to adapt," university spokesman Wes Lukoshus said.

He said the university is striving to make Purdue Calumet in Hammond a campus community. And athletics is a good way to get area residents to rally around the school.

Lukoshus announced the university is facing a $4 million deficit this year, and would close its Academic Learning Center in Merrillville, saving $280,000 in annual operating costs.

At the same time, the university is expanding its athletic program to 12 teams.

In the 2009-10 school year, Purdue Calumet offered just two varsity sports -- men's and women's basketball.

The goal is to join the National Collegiate Athletic Association at the Division III level. The university has added two new sports each year including soccer, cross country, tennis and golf. This fall, the university will add men's baseball and women's softball. 

Lukoshus said the university want quality, full-time students to continue their athletic and academic career at Purdue Calumet.

"These are students who are on track to graduate in four or five years," he said.

Lukoshus said there were 125 students in the category with a grade point average of 3.02.

"These students want to succeed on and off the field," he said. "This is a good enrollment strategy for us."

PUC freshman Armando Gonzalez, 19, from Dallas, chose Purdue Calumet over the University of Texas because of the soccer program.

"When I narrowed it down to the final four, I had scholarships from two schools in Florida, the University of Texas and Purdue Calumet," Gonzalez said.

He graduated from high school with a 4.34 grade point average.

Lukoshus said when people read stories in the paper about a local university's team and how well they've done, it generates interest and support.

Lukoshus said Purdue Calumet women's basketball team had a great season and qualified for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.

"The crowds doubled at the games. It generated respect and an aura that we weren't able to generate otherwise, and it affected our enrollment," he said.

He said Purdue Calumet has changed from where it was a decade ago.

"We no longer offer associate degrees or remedial education. Those students are at Ivy Tech. For us to succeed, we need to appeal to people who want a bachelor's degree or master's degree."

While the Indiana Commission for Higher Education is not involved in the internal processes at each campus, Jason Dudich, the commission's chief financial officer, said the commission is aware full-time enrollment at the Purdue Calumet campus has dropped.

"That means a loss of tuition and fees," he said.

That is happening at Purdue Calumet and Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, Dudich said.

Purdue Calumet athletic director Rick Costello said one of the things he tells athletes who are looking for a good education is that Purdue Calumet is reasonably priced financially; students can live on campus and attend classes for $12,000 per year.

"It's an amazing academic experience," he said. "A student can come here and get a world-renowned degree. They are students first, athletes second."

Gonzalez said there were several factors in his decision to move to Hammond from Texas.

"I decided to attend Purdue Calumet because it's reasonably priced, the Purdue name and the soccer program," said the aerospace engineering major. "I wanted to keep playing soccer. I didn't know how hard it was going to be. It's pretty challenging, but that's engineering and that's what I want to do."

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