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The Journal Gazette

  • IPFW student Austin Eichman looks at his notes as he writes his work on one of the whiteboards inside The Bridge.

  • Photos by Chad Ryan | The Journal GazetteThe Bridge is a pedestrian walk bridge that connects IPFW’s Walb Student Union with the Helmke Library. The Bridge features whiteboards, study tables and desks beside the window-lined main walkway.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 11:16 pm

Path to student success

Jamie Duffy The Journal Gazette

Freshman Corey Powers found The Bridge at IPFW after he and a couple of buddies went looking for it. 

The inviting study area connecting the Helmke Library to the Walb Student Union and the Gates Athletics Center overlooks the campus from large glass windows on both sides of the pedestrian walkway.

It has now become one of his favorite places to go. Last Tuesday he looked content as he went from his tablet to a class handout, using the white board at his right to jot down notes with a magic marker.

"Now that I know about it, yeah," said the Homestead High School grad who would like to major in political science and business. "I really like this whole area."

The Bridge, which features several study areas on one side and the walkway on the other, is just one of the amenities that IPFW has added to keep students in school and bound for graduation.

Others include tuition reduction for returning students, a new Math Mall and an emphasis on faculty mentoring.

The physical growth of the campus, including dormitories, is part of a "concerted effort on student success," said Carl Drummond, vice chancellor for academic affairs.

Success more often than not means getting that degree, and graduation rates for four-year degrees have increased 60 percent in the last 10 years, he added, to 1,370 who graduated in 2014.

Part of the culture of higher education, he said, is that "bigger is better. People always ask about enrollment, but it’s just one measure of an institution." Enrollment this year dipped nearly 2 percent from 13,459 students to 13,214, said John Kaufeld, campus spokesman.

Student enrollment typically decreases when the economy improves. IPFW has seen that decrease, as well as Fort Wayne’s Ivy Tech campus, which reported a 5 percent decline.

To beat that sort of slide, local private universities have added new certification and doctoral programs. But IPFW officials say it’s easier to offer these programs when you don’t have to first get approval from either the Indiana or Purdue board of trustees and approval from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

"IPFW is a global brand," Drummond said. "We have to be very careful in this process. Other private universities have a certain nimbleness. They can give it a try." But adding a doctoral program "is expensive and the margin (of profit) is slim."

IPFW is slated to offer a doctorate of nursing practice next fall, which Drummond estimated will attract 12 students at an approximate start-up cost of $200,000.

The doctorate of nursing practice will bring the number of doctoral programs at the university to 12, along with 200 undergraduate degrees.

"At the graduate level, all of our energy and effort is two things: improving existing graduate programs and launching the DNP. We are the first regional campus to offer an applied doctorate or professional practice doctorate," said Drummond, who added that the degree will be offered in collaboration with Purdue University North Central.

Drummond foresees creating a doctoral actuarial program so that students will be prepared for a series of professional actuarial exams.

Developing graduate programs will align with economically-targeted areas in northern Indiana, including the health care, auto, food processing, defense, medical device, insurance and logistics industries.

A few years ago, the regional campus started focusing on student retention and student graduation, reaching out to students who may have dropped out to return through tuition incentives and amenities on campus.

This year, IPFW offered a 50 percent reduction in tuition to returning students, a move that brought back 93 people.

"It’s an outcome that the state wants and the economy needs," Drummond said.

Two programs opened this fall. The Math Mall, a 31-seat classroom in Kettler Hall, is run by Dianna Zook, a tenured math professor.  

The mall is situated in a hallway where math classes take place, so accessibility was also a consideration, Drummond said.

The Math Mall links with the Center for Academic Support and Advancement in the hall, which offers a variety of tutoring.

On the second floor of the Helmke Library, which will be undergoing a facelift, is a large room known as the Student Learning Commons.

Tucked to the side is the new Honors Center, a cool, sleek area where honors students – those with a 3.3 GPA in high school and certain SAT and ACT requirements – can go to study. There are about 200 students who qualify, Drummond said.

IPFW has also encouraged a greater faculty mentoring program. "All of us had that influential person in college," Drummond said. So IPFW is pushing for a "one-on-one all the time."

Even though it’s a large campus, the largest in northeast Indiana, "we are an institution that cares about them. We offer degrees that students want and we have expanded our offerings online."

The same day Corey Powers was scribbling on the white board on the Bridge, sophomore Shalyn Renfrow, 19, from Peru, Indiana, was tucking into a nursing textbook several inches thick at the other end near the student union. 

The sun was coming through both sides of her study area and people were talking quietly. 

"There are no TV distractions," she joked. "There’s other people here, but I still study better."