Higher education is undergoing a period of great change, with a significant drop in high school graduates expected in 2025, according to Deborah Curtis, Indiana State University president.

In response, ISU plans to increasingly recruit adult learners who may want an online college education or additional credentials, one of the areas addressed in the university’s new strategic plan.

On Friday, ISU trustees heard a report on the first draft of the plan, called Focusing on Our Future Together; the plan covers fall 2021 through fall 2025.

“This will be a period of great change for higher education, which is why we decided to create a four-year plan,” Curtis said. “We feel it is important to really focus our priorities over the next four years in order to position the institution for the future.”

The plan has five goals: advance ISU’s commitment to equity and inclusive excellence; expand access to higher education while increasing student success and degree attainment; use partnerships to deepen student learning, address community challenges and prepare a skilled workforce; ensure financial sustainability; and enhance institutional reputation and pride.

Addressing enrollment challenges will be a high priority.

“We really have to rethink to whom we are providing our services and reaching out,” Curtis said in an interview. ISU will continue to serve traditional high school graduates.

But there is “a great need” among those adult learners who may need or want further education, yet can’t come to campus, she said. “How do we make what we have to offer available?” Curtis said.

The Dreiser Hall renovation will be important in meeting those needs, she said. Dreiser Hall houses ISU distance education facilities.

ISU has strong programs not offered at other institutions, and it needs to make more people aware of them, she said.

During a presentation on the strategic plan, Rana Johnson, a committee co-chair, said ISU’s commitment to equity and inclusion is embedded throughout the plan.

Some of the initiatives include campus climate surveys; anti-racism workshops; having a more diverse workforce on campus; and infusing equity, inclusion and social justice into each academic major.

Examples of infusing it into academic majors might include a finance major studying systemic racism in banking, or a political science major studying efforts to restrict voting access, according to Katie Butwin, another presenter.

After the presentation on the strategic plan, Trustee Ed Pease praised it and the process to develop it. He noted that the term “social justice” was used extensively in the document and suggested the board needed further discussion and education on what it means.

In his view, it needs to be included, Pease said. But it needs to be discussed in more detail by trustees so they are more comfortable with it.

The draft plan also calls for increasing the university’s endowment and fundraising; enhancing and increase awareness of ISU’s academic reputation; and leveraging ISU’s athletics “to increase the connectedness between external/internal audiences and the university.”

Feedback on the draft plan will be solicited through the end of March.

During the president’s comments during the regular trustee meeting, Curtis painted a more hopeful picture on potential state funding than was the case last year. The governor’s budget proposal and House budget bill call for restoration of a 7% reserve held back last year for public higher education as well as a 2% increase over the biennium.

If the 7% is not restored, “That would be a permanent cut for us,” Curtis said.

Also, ISU’s improved performance on student success metrics “puts us in a strong position at this time.” The state provides additional funding support based on these performance metrics.

“We still have a ways to go before a final budget is passed,” but right now, “it is encouraging,” Curtis said.
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