A bold presentation: Indiana State President Deborah Curtis turns to watch a video with the audience during her fall address on Wednesday in University Hall on the ISU campus. Tribune-Star/Joseph C. Garza
A bold presentation: Indiana State President Deborah Curtis turns to watch a video with the audience during her fall address on Wednesday in University Hall on the ISU campus. Tribune-Star/Joseph C. Garza
In her fall address Wednesday, Indiana State University President Deborah Curtis pointed to new initiatives that show promising signs of the university responding to enrollment challenges.

The freshmen class this fall is up 7%, and there has been a large increase of freshmen admitted into the Honors College.

Also, academic advising efforts have lead to improved freshmen retention rates, which went from 60% in fall 2021 to 64% in fall 2022.

Speaking at University Hall in the Bayh College of Education, Curtis focused on the “Be So Bold” theme, which is the title of the $100 million fundraising campaign announced last week.

She reviewed the university’s accomplishments and its future, and she also provided context on the extent of the challenges ahead.

“This is a period of rapid change for higher education that will require all of us to work together as we adapt to address the evolving landscape,” she told the audience, consisting primarily of ISU administrators, faculty and staff.

While the pandemic took its toll on higher education institutions across the country, its impact was more severe on institutions like Indiana State, she said. Overall ISU headcount enrollment dropped to 8,658 this fall, about an 8.5% decline from fall 2021. Overall enrollment has been declining since fall 2017.

In terms of demographics, the number of high school graduates across the nation, and particularly in Indiana, is declining, Curtis said. To add to that, Indiana’s college-going rate is at its lowest point in more than a generation, she said. For 2020 high school graduates, it fell to 53% “and it’s anticipated to fall below 50% when the last two years are added to the equation.” But ISU is responding, and she highlighted several initiatives, including Indiana State Advantage. The program guarantees free tuition for all Indiana residents who are Pell eligible after their aid is applied, and have a minimum high school grade point average of 3.0. It also guarantees students in most programs, who stay on track, will graduate on-time in four years or the additional tuition is free.

The Indiana State Advantage also offers students a one-time grant of up to $3,000 to participate in a high-impact, out-of-classroom experience such as a research program, an internship, or a study abroad opportunity. That, Curtis said, is unusual for an institution of ISU’s size.

Curtis also pointed to ISU’s commitment to affordability. ISU’s tuition and mandatory fees are the lowest among the state’s major four-year public universities and the lowest among some nearby, out of state universities with a similar mission.

Pointing to some of the demographics of the ISU freshmen class, she said 81% are from Indiana; nearly half are Pell eligible and 36% are minority.

“Indiana State fills a very special role in meeting the state’s higher education needs,” Curtis said. It also will continue to find new ways to serve Indiana’s adult population through online programs.

“There is more work to be done, but we are gratified to see the needle moving in the right direction,” Curtis said.

In higher education, budget reallocations have become a regular occurrence, she said. At ISU, “We constantly monitor our budget and we prepare for this.”

She thanked the university community for its assistance “in keeping our university on solid financial footing by living within our means.” Curtis outlined other achievements in grants, partnerships, and other ways the university serves its students, the community and the state.

• The Lilly Endowment has awarded grants of $9.8 million to improve retention and graduation rates of minority and low-income students, and to expand summer camp opportunities for pre-college age students to study STEAM subjects such as engineering and the arts.
• ISU has partnered with GEODIS, a leader in transport and logistics, for space at the Made @ Plainfield facility called Logistics 4.0 Innovation Hub. It will be used train individuals in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the management of logistics companies.
• She also pointed to the Be So Bold fundraising campaign kickoff, which in the quiet phase raised 62% of its $100-million goal. Last Friday might’s kickoff started the “public phase.”

The campaign’s priorities are student scholarships, experiential learning, faculty excellence and Sycamore athletics.

“This work will make it possible for more Indiana state students to achieve their educational goal of crossing the stage during commencement,” Curtis said. Already, funds raised have enabled more students to continue their education and graduate.

“In this higher ed climate, the journey will test our commitment, but we will prosper,” she said. “Let’s grab ahold of the bright future that lays ahead for us if we are only ready to go get it. Now’s the time to lean in and work our plan.”

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