HIGHER EDUCATION: Tight economy translates into increased enrollment

Region colleges look for different ways to educate students
2010-02-12T00:00:00Z HIGHER EDUCATION: Tight economy translates into increased enrollmentBy Carmen McCollum - carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

Indiana University Northwest Chancellor Bruce Bergland said the local campus mirrors the state university in seeing record enrollment.

"The fact that our enrollment has increased so dramatically is a boon in that our tuition revenue is much higher than we had projected it to be," he said. "As a result, the difficulties that are brought on by reductions in state appropriations are to some degree mitigated."

Even as Indiana colleges and universities are seeing increased enrollment, they continue to wrestle with budget cuts.

In December, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels announced he was cutting $150 million from the state's colleges and universities.

"The most recent cuts to the budget will cost us in the neighborhood of $1.4 million," Bergland said.

Anticipating difficult times, Indiana University campuswide reduced its travel fund significantly and did not fill some vacant positions, reducing the budget by approximately 15 percent, Bergland said.

Purdue University Calumet had to reduce 4.2 percent or about $1.2 million from the current budget after the biennial budget, passed by the Legislature last year, was approved by the governor. Purdue Calumet Chancellor Howard Cohen said cuts included reducing staff travel, research funding, student workers, part-time workers and some computer system and library support.

Cohen said the state reallocated that money back to the school with $1.2 million in stimulus money.

Purdue Calumet's share of the higher education cut Daniels ordered in December amounts to $3.7 million.

Still, on the positive side, Cohen said the enrollment growth, particularly in graduate programs, is good. He said the graduate programs have higher tuition, which has boosted revenue.

"We've also had tremendous growth in grants," he said.

Cohen cited the university's partnership with BP Amoco, for which Purdue Calumet's Water Institute and Argonne National Laboratory are collaborating to identify ways BP can minimize discharges into Lake Michigan.

He also mentioned a $5 million gift from the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation and the Bruce and Beth White Family Foundation to grow and enhance Purdue Calumet's hospitality and tourism management program.

"We're launching a distance education program for nursing, and we started a program in mechatronics engineering technology (relating to the packaging industry) in the School of Technology," he said, adding that industry donated nearly $600,000 worth of equipment to support that program.          

Stephen Turner, interim vice chancellor for administration at the Purdue North Central campus in Westville, said the PNC campus is taking a similar approach to what Purdue Calumet is doing by setting aside all noncritical renovation and carefully looking at hiring and vacancies.

Indiana Higher Education Commissioner Teresa Lubbers noted a tight economy sends people back to school to improve their skills.

"In the last 20 years, the number of Hoosiers who go on to college has doubled," she said. "We'll be focusing on college completion. Part of the reason some people don't complete college is that they are not adequately prepared. We'll be partnering with our K-12 institutions to make sure that all students are prepared for college."

She said a higher education strategic plan will address college affordability to make it possible for first-generation and underrepresented populations to improve their ability to go to college.

Ivy Tech Community College, which has more than 120,000 students across the state, has long said it is one of the most affordable institutions to attend.

Lupe Valtierra, chancellor for the Northwest campuses, said the cuts in higher education have forced the college to re-examine what it has been doing and to improve its efficiencies.

"We've had to increase our student seat count from 15 students to 20 to 25 students per class, making better use of capacity," he said.

Although private institutions are not directly affected by state budget cuts, they are impacted through state financial aid programs offered to students.

Historically, Indiana has been one of the states which is most generous to college-bound students, said Dan Lowery, vice president of academic affairs at Calumet College of St. Joseph.

Valparaiso University President Mark Heckler said another issue that affects private colleges and universities is when philanthropy drops off.

He said that coupled with a downturn in the economy puts great pressure on private institutions, but was cautiously optimistic about VU's future.

"For a university like Valparaiso, we know that as we go forward, we will have to have very generous alumni and friends. High-quality institutions will continue to see growth in investments and philanthropy but we need to re-think our approach to tuition, and ways to slow down our need to increase tuition," Heckler said.

He said the university also is looking for different ways of educating students.

"It could mean we could potentially open campuses or programs in other places, other countries," Heckler said. "That's one of the things that we are exploring. We'll be ready to talk about this by next fall."

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