The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, March 16, 2016 7:32 am

At 50, IPFW faces a future of promise

IPFW’s 50th anniversary was cause for celebration at a "blue-tie" event Saturday, but the governor’s signature on the state budget bill was another reason to celebrate. The two-year spending plan ends years of discussion over the university’s status by designating IPFW a metropolitan campus – the same classification that has allowed IUPUI to flourish.

"We’ve spent these first 50 years as a regional campus; now we are going to grow into something else," said Chancellor Vicky Carwein, "It’s aspirational for us – we’re no longer just a regional campus. It’s a great thing."

The Commission for Higher Education was expected to discuss IPFW’s classification at its meeting Thursday, but the budget language does the job. Lawmakers direct the commission to "designate, treat, and classify" IPFW as a metropolitan university and also call for a study of governance of the campus. While it is currently overseen by Purdue University, a study last year by the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership recommended Indiana University as the campus manager.

The metropolitan university designation should give IPFW the authority to evolve. The budget requires the commission to set new performance funding measures for the Fort Wayne campus, which penalizes IPFW if its students – many of whom work to pay for school – take longer than four years to graduate.  More important, the budget language removes limits and restrictions placed on regional campuses in developing and offering doctoral programs to meet area economic needs.

The higher ed commission had to grant permission in 2013 to add a much-needed doctor of nursing practice program, but it was allowed only in collaboration with Purdue-West Lafayette and Purdue-Calumet.

Carwein said IPFW can now consider adding doctoral programs that don’t "already exist at the mothership."

The metropolitan university designation was helped along by Purdue President Mitch Daniels, who hadn’t always been a supporter of the change. He urged the commission to make the designation in January then signed off on a definition of how it would work about a month ago. Carwein and other university officials, along with area economic officials, were persistent in making the self-evident case that IPFW should be treated differently than Purdue’s Calumet and North Central campuses.

But northeast Indiana legislators deserve the credit for making sure it happened. Over multiple sessions, they pushed university bureaucracies resistant to change. Sen. Dennis Kruse proposed making IPFW an independent university; Sen. Jim Banks first called for IPFW’s own classification. The work of Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, is apparent in the final budget bill language.

The spending plan itself is more cause for celebration. Two million dollars awarded in the last biennium as a one-time appropriation was made permanent, along with an additional $700,000. Another $10 million is earmarked for deferred maintenance projects. 

An improved revenue report last week eases concerns that the Pence administration will order state universities to revert money to the state’s general fund. The reversion could wipe out the additional operating funds IPFW is set to receive.

But those worries are for another day. Today is to celebrate IPFW’s history and its more promising future.

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