GUEST COMMENTARY: Expand access to Chicago; expand NWI opportunities

2013-10-20T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Expand access to Chicago; expand NWI opportunitiesBy Mark Heckler
October 20, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Competition among colleges and universities for the best students is constant, spirited and multifaceted. These days, it isn’t enough to “just” have top-flight faculty and facilities. Students are looking for numerous other perks, and a key one today is mass transit.

In Valparaiso, we have been blessed with a city administration that has prioritized mass transit, both locally with the V-Line and regionally with ChicaGo Dash buses to Chicago. That access to Chicago is critical for us and the region, and must be expanded.

If Chicago were a country its economy would rank 20th globally. The internship and job opportunities it offers our students and graduates can be matched by few schools in the world. Proximity to Chicago is already a key competitive advantage for colleges and universities here. Now Northwest Indiana stands poised to expand that advantage to the region as a whole.

In September, U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., challenged a gathering of more than 600 area leaders to develop a funding solution for rail expansion by March. In a subsequent meeting of more than 80 business executives, educators and elected officials, expansion of South Shore commuter rail service was judged to be the region’s No. 2 priority. No. 1? Renewed state funding for the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, which could provide the local matching dollars required for building new rail lines.

In addition to attracting students, a better connection to the city improves the region’s chances of retaining students after they graduate. Indiana badly lags the nation in the number of adults with bachelor’s and postgraduate degrees. People who earn degrees here leave when they can’t find jobs, and people who earn degrees elsewhere don’t come here because there appear to be few opportunities. Yet we are next door to one of the biggest economies on the planet! It makes no sense — unless you are sitting in a traffic jam on the Borman at 8 a.m.

Northwest Indiana must invest in expanded rail and bus service. Without access to Chicago, we deny access to the possibilities for a better tomorrow.

Mark Heckler is president of Valparaiso University. The opinions are the writer's.

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