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Grad rate is IPFW’s surest path to funding

The Journal Gazette’s recent editorial, “Take caution with IPFW budget cuts,” lamented that the university expects to see an overall reduction in state funding due in part to Indiana’s shift to a performance-based funding formula that drives dollars to colleges that produce more quality degrees and on-time graduates.

In fact, over the past two budget cycles IPFW saw a 3.2 percent increase – or an additional $1.7 million – in state dollars earned directly through Indiana’s performance formula. To put that in context, performance funding generated more revenue for IPFW in the midst of a national recession at a time when overall state support for higher education was essentially flat.

As a Fort Wayne business owner and the current chairwoman of the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, I agree that there’s a clear connection between the strength of our colleges and our regional economy.

It’s for that reason that the commission has asked the Indiana General Assembly to invest more in higher education in the next state budget and reverse a recent downward trend in state support for our colleges.

However, as an employer and steward of taxpayer resources, I believe that a focus on performance is entirely consistent with Indiana’s goal of raising the education level of Hoosiers and increasing our shared return on investment in higher education.

It’s worth noting that IPFW stands to earn additional dollars in the next state budget for improving its performance in overall degree completion and the success rate of at-risk students.

One area in which IPFW continues to fall short is on-time graduation.

The reality is that fewer than one in 10 full-time students at IPFW today completes a four-year degree on time, and only a quarter of those students graduate after six years.

While IPFW is slated to receive additional funding under the commission’s budget recommendation, the best way for the college to earn even more state dollars is increasing the number of students who graduate on time.

While I understand that many IPFW students are balancing jobs and family with their college studies, we simply must do a better job in reducing the time it takes them to earn a degree. These students deserve the benefits of an on-time, affordable degree.

Better advising, more financial aid for working students and clear degree maps that focus on course-taking and promote on-time completion are a few ways to tackle this issue.

Our bottom line at the commission is student success, and taking longer to earn a degree not only means that students and taxpayers pay more, it dramatically decreases the odds that students graduate at all.

IPFW is an essential partner in advancing individual opportunity and economic development in northeast Indiana, but getting our full return on investment requires us to continue paying for what we value and rewarding results.

Marilyn Moran Townsend is chairwoman of the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. She wrote this for The Journal Gazette.