January 11, 2013
McRobbie optimistic about legislative support for IU
By Mike Leonard
January 11, 2013
Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie hasn't had a lot to be happy about with flat or decreased state funding for the university over the past few years.
So with the Indiana Higher Education Commission recommending a 3.5 percent overall increase from the Legislature in each year of the 2013-15 biennium, and the State Budget Committee and House Ways and Means Committee tacitly endorsing the proposal, the IU president is optimistic.
"We've had a very receptive atmosphere, and I think you saw that today," he said after presenting the university's budget request to the Ways and Means Committee Thursday morning. "I think there is a renewed appreciation of the importance of the research institution and of IU in particular."
McRobbie sought to underscore the university's commitment to the higher education commission and Legislature's goals with a succinct summary of IU's initiatives and achievements in recent years.
The IU president said student financial assistance from IU to its students has increased from $21.4 million in 2005-06 to $74.8 million in 2011-12 through private fundraising and operational efficiencies. Cost benchmarking of various university operations has both confirmed that many university operations already are well-run and pointed out areas for additional efficiencies, he said. The rate of health care expense increases has been driven down as well through guiding employees into a more cost-effective high-deductible health care plan.
Academically, McRobbie noted, the university has proven that it can be nimble and change by opening new schools and closing or consolidating other areas to focus on the needs of the 21st century university.
IU is increasing its efforts to counsel students on both financial aid and debt, McRobbie said, noting that better information and knowledge contributes to the goal of increased affordability by shortening the time from matriculation to degree completion.
At the same time, the IU president said, the university system has increased enrollment by 12.7 percent from fall 2006 to fall 2012, and increased degree production from 18,000 in 2006 to nearly 21,000 in 2012. That addresses the higher education commission's goal of increasing the percentage of Indiana residents with some sort of higher education from roughly 30 percent to 60 percent by 2025.
McRobbie also said he was pleased that the higher education commission and legislative bodies appear be in agreement that the state can and should do more to fund necessary rehabilitation and renovation projects at state-assisted institutions. State support has decreased steadily over the years, prompting IU and Purdue, for example, to institute new fees to students. Yet IU still is looking at a backlog of about $700 million in deferred maintenance.
IU is requesting $45.8 million in the biennium, plus $141 million in special renovations, primarily in the Old Crescent on the Bloomington campus.
State Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, chairman of the higher education subcommittee, said after the Ways and Means hearing that research institutions such as IU and Purdue have done a good job weathering tough economic times and addressing the state's goals. But he cautioned against excessive optimism over the state's better financial position.
"I think (Ways and Means Committee Chairman) Doc Brown said it best when he was introduced as chairman and he said the easiest time was when we had no money, because you could say no to everybody," Dermody said.
"But now that there are funds available, everybody's going to be coming, looking for additional increases. So it actually makes it more difficult as we have to look at K-12 (education), Medicaid, higher education, the department of corrections. We're going to have to be on top of our game and this will be a difficult budget year precisely because we're going to have to make difficult choices on where we're going to spend our additional dollars," he said.
Ivy Tech President Thomas J. Snyder also gave a presentation to the Ways and Means Committee Thursday and introduced three students with compelling stories about how the state's community college system has helped them attain higher education credentials they never thought they could earn.
He noted, however, that the Lumina Foundation's goals have now become the Indiana Higher Education Commission goals and they don't necessarily fit the organization of Indiana's community college system, which is the largest single community college system in the country.
Snyder also pointed out that Ivy Tech continues to embrace its designated role as the primary provider of remediation for adult learners but is hampered by a state funding formula that doesn't support that objective.
Ivy Tech spokesman Jeffrey Terp explained after the meeting that by not including remediation in the state's performance-based calculations, the remediation task becomes an unfunded mandate. Moreover, he said, when Indiana designated Ivy Tech as the open admission entry for residents to pursue higher education in 2005, it identified $3,500 as the figure the state should meet to fund each full time equivalent student in the community college system. "They've never even come close to that," Terp said, putting the current number at $2,552 per student.
"If Indiana is going to reach its higher education attainment goal, it's going to have to be through the community college system, which is the most affordable option," Terp said. "The four-year institutions can incrementally increase their graduation rates, but to go from 60,000 to 120,000 per year, we are going to have to play a major role and it's tough when we're that far off what we need.
"It's really a decision the state's going to have to make. We can invest in education or, as one reporter put it, we can continue to remain the Mississippi of the Midwest," he said.
No mention was made of the Ivy Tech Bloomington request to proceed with construction of an addition to its existing primary academic building. The facility was built to accommodate 5,000 students and enrollment is now about 6,300. Last December, the higher education commission recommended approval of a $20 million, 80,000 square-foot addition to the current, 148,000 square-foot building.
"A lot of people are champing at the bit for new construction," subcommittee chairman Dermody said after the meeting. "This is just the starting point. A lot will be different and a lot will change between now and April."
In that view he had full agreement from Ivy Tech's Terp. "We're in the first inning of an extra-inning game, potentially," he said. "We have a long ways to go."