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IPFW autonomy measures likely to get more study

INDIANAPOLIS – Lawmakers are looking to scale back proposals to give IPFW more graduate-degree programs and grant more autonomy for all regional campuses.

The Senate Education Committee heard testimony Wednesday on two proposals, and both will likely be passed to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education for study.

"It's my opinion that inherent conflict exists, because IPFW is often still in competition with Purdue for students and funding," said Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City.

Banks authored both bills along with Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn. No votes were taken Wednesday.

IPFW is among the largest public universities in the state, with an enrollment this year of about 13,700 students.

Purdue University currently provides administrative oversight of the regional IPFW campus, with students able to get degrees from both Indiana University and Purdue, depending on the program.

Lawmakers frustrated with relations between the regional campus and Purdue conducted a summer study committee on the issue. Some provisions from that study surfaced in the bills filed this session.

Senate Bill 209 would have required the Indiana Commission for Higher Education to approve six graduate degree programs, including doctoral degrees, for IPFW.

Currently, IPFW graduate programs must be approved first by the Purdue University Board of Trustees and then go through an extensive study of their statewide implications and a vote by the commission.

"We don't take this request lightly. We know it's way outside the norm," said John Sampson, president and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership. "But it's critical to the industries located in our 10 counties."

He mentioned specific areas of mechanical engineering, medical devices, wireless communication and insurance in which advanced programs might be helpful to the region.

Teresa Lubbers, the state's higher education commissioner, said IPFW has more graduate degrees – 25 – than any other regional campus in the state. And no regional campus has a doctoral program, which would be a significant departure from current practice of keeping those on core campuses.

"There might be a reason to look at specific programs, but this should be done in the same way we have approved other degrees and programs, which is in a very thoughtful manner," she said.

Points to consider are the differing missions of the core and regional campuses, and the cost and redundancy in adding regional graduate programs, Lubbers said.

The committee also heard Senate Bill 98, which would alter the governance structure of regional campuses in several ways. The bill would apply to all regional campuses in the state, not just IPFW.

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said he agrees that the regional campuses need a better governance model, but he hesitated at getting the legislature involved.

Banks said he is preparing a measure that would send the issue to the Commission for Higher Education to study and make recommendations.

Purdue University Provost Tim Sands said he supports the proposed changes to the bill, and he told the committee the college has been undertaking its own evaluation of regional campus issues.

That analysis should conclude with a report sometime in the spring.

"We think it's important that we look at these issues and carefully examine the tradeoffs between autonomy and efficiency," Sands said. "We applaud the overall discussion and think the commission will be a valuable partner."

nkelly@jg.net

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