News and Tribune

Floyd County

August 21, 2013

Higher education facing lofty challenges

IUS’ Bichelmeyer outlines issues in state of the campus address

NEW ALBANY — Declining enrollment and subsequent funding losses make up part of the challenges facing Indiana University Southeast’s interim Chancellor Barbara Bichelmeyer.

But in her first and likely last state of the campus address for IU Southeast, she said pausing to evaluate the terrain is the best way to make it over the mountain.

Though enrollment for this fall hasn’t been tallied, the number of students in IU Southeast’s classrooms has fallen, causing a $3 million shortfall in the 2013 fiscal year.

On Tuesday, Bichelmeyer said even though she’s only serving a one-year term in the college’s top spot, she hopes to help solve as many problems facing the campus as possible before a permanent chancellor is seated next summer.

“I think we will move the needle forward as best we can in the time we have with a great group of people who are dedicated to doing the work,” Bichelmeyer said during her address at the school’s Stem Concert Hall.

The shortfall wasn’t enough to force a dip into cash reserves, vice chancellor for administrative affairs Dana Wavle said.

He also said this year’s capital campaign — raising at least $12 million — will also help fill in some gaps as they try to keep from losing any more money.

But another approach focused on bringing back students who haven’t finished their degrees has already helped bring in more money.

Jason Meriwether, the new vice chancellor for enrollment management and student affairs, said a campaign to reach students who were close to getting their degrees but dropped out used email, automatic calls and personal phone calls from academic advisers.

After getting about 180 students to come back to campus, he said it should bring in about $330,000 of tuition revenue.

“It was very much about the personal touch,” Meriwether said. “You had a lot of them that were seniors who were busy with life and jobs, thinking about the next steps for their life past a degree. Sometimes when you’re making money and you’re busy with family, especially with non-traditional students, school is a priority but it sinks down the list.”

But reaching into the role she also currently serves at Bloomington with combining higher education and the Internet, Bichelmeyer said taking a look at more online offerings for students could also help push the university forward.

“The Internet is refining our notions of education as being a lecture-based, information-dissemination experience,” Bichelmeyer said. “We are gaining a new appreciation that real education occurs through learner engagement and interactions with faculty, other learners, and with the knowledge and skills students seek to acquire.”

She said offering a lecture online and allowing students to watch it via the web could help them get over the perception of crossing a bridge or a highway to sit in the lecture hall for the same purpose.

But she also said low retention and completion rates — though in line with statewide comparisons — also need to be addressed along with rising student debt and defaults.

The campus just completed its first joint open house with Ivy Tech in Sellersburg. She said that relationship will continue, especially as state government pushes the point. She said students who earn an associate’s degree at Ivy Tech should be able to transfer all 60 credit hours toward a bachelor’s at Indiana University campuses in at least 10 programs.

She said though the college is coming off the heels of its largest-ever graduating class, bringing another county in Kentucky with its reciprocity agreement and the high rate of post-graduation employment, they still have problems to solve.

But she said she’s confident she can at least begin the process of taking care of them.

“I know the greatest gifts of this year will be the relationships we build with each other, and those will remain long after the year is finished and the initiatives have been completed,” Bichelmeyer said. “I know that our relationships will, ultimately, be the most important measures of our success.”

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