The Journal Gazette
 
 
Monday, February 01, 2016 10:01 pm

IPFW has thrived on change

Carl N. Drummond

Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne has throughout its 50-year history been an institution best characterized by change, and as such, it has been our ability to respond to and adapt to change that has become the cornerstone of IPFW’s identity. 

The state’s two great universities came together to create the Coliseum Boulevard campus with the first combined classes offered in the fall of 1964. For a decade, the campus operated as two co-located but administratively independent universities until the merger under the leadership of IPFW’s first chancellor, Donald Schwartz. 

In 1981, faculty governance was combined under a single Fort Wayne Senate. In 1985, Purdue University was designated as the fiscally responsible corporation for the management of the campus. In 1987, campus academic units were reorganized to reflect the institution’s homogeneous mission. In 2001, the Mastodons began the transition to NCAA Division I athletics. In 2004, the Waterfield Campus Student Housing complex opened. In 2012, Chancellor Vicky Carwein joined the university following Michael Wartell’s 18 years of leadership.

Throughout these many internally driven changes, IPFW has experienced significant grown in physical facilities, in its academic reputation, and in its impact on the community it serves.

The most significant change IPFW has experienced, however, was externally driven. In 2005, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education rechartered Ivy Tech State College into the Ivy Tech Community College System and mandated that Ivy Tech serve as the state’s primary provider of associate-degree education. This mandate radically changed IPFW’s educational mission by placing a clear emphasis on baccalaureate education. 

In the year prior to this change, IPFW awarded 869 baccalaureate degrees and 566 associate degrees, a ratio of 1½ to 1. Since 2005, IPFW has responded by eliminating many associate degrees and investing in the faculty and instructional infrastructure necessary to support the higher levels of learning expected of students completing baccalaureate degree programs. As a result, in 2015, IPFW awarded 1,374 baccalaureate degrees and 231 associate degrees, a ratio of 6 to 1.

IPFW’s responsiveness is clear evidence of the ways in which the university affects the economic well-being of the region. In Indiana, workers with a baccalaureate degree earn about 17 percent more annually than do their counterparts with only an associate degree. 

Over the past decade, IPFW has increased the number of baccalaureate degrees by 50 percent. Even more importantly, over this time, direct state appropriations, when adjusted for inflation, have remained nearly constant at around $46 million annually. How has this been achieved? The hard work of our dedicated faculty, the commitment of our student support staff, the attentiveness of our administrative leadership, and most importantly the commitment to learning of our students.

Just as Mark Twain is reported to have quipped that "reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated," recent reports and suggestions that IPFW is either a failing or declining university are without merit. More can and will be done to ensure that we meet our mission, but make no mistake: IPFW is both financially sound and poised for renewed growth. 

This academic year, the university welcomed 1,585 freshmen from regional high schools, a 9.4 percent increase over fall 2014. Likewise, the number of students who have been admitted to begin classes this fall is up 7 percent over last year and up 11 percent over two years ago. These data are strong indicators that IPFW has weathered the post-recessionary decline and can expect to return to near record levels of enrollment soon.

However, the number of students enrolled is a convenient but not fully diagnostic measure of a university’s health. One of the greatest points of pride for IPFW, and a factor that serves to differentiate our university from any other in the region, is our commitment to discovery and innovation. 

Professor Punya Nachappa of the biology department is pursuing research on the transmittal of diseases from insects to the soybean crops of Indiana. Professor Zhuming Bi of the engineering program has worked closely with a number of regional manufacturing companies on the use of computer-modeled predictive design to improve their products. Professor Ryan Yoder of the psychology department has received a $425,000 research award from the National Institutes of Health to develop a better understanding of the cognitive functions behind movement, direction and spatial awareness. 

What is so exciting about the work of these researchers is the degree to which they engage undergraduate students in cutting-edge research. In so doing, they join their faculty colleagues in providing IPFW students with regionally unique learning experiences.

Without question, the recommendations that have come forward as part of the Legislative Services Agency report on the governance of IPFW, if fully implemented, would result in significant changes to northeast Indiana’s metropolitan comprehensive university. Throughout its history, IPFW has undertaken many such changes. In every case, the institution has continued to grow and respond to the needs of the region it serves.

I can assure you, based upon our past history and the collective commitment and dedication of our faculty and staff, this institution, irrespective of the final governance model, will continue to do what it has always done – serve the educational needs of northeast Indiana by providing world-class educational experiences to our students at an affordable price. Not only is IPFW alive and well, it is a thriving university poised for growth in domains of learning that are critical to the future of Fort Wayne and northeast Indiana.

Carl N. Drummond is professor of geology and vice chancellor for academic affairs and enrollment management at IPFW. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.

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