On 20 January 2019, Indiana University turned 199 years old. IU’s 200th year is an opportunity to reflect on the growth and change that the University has experienced since it was founded. Particularly looking at the last century, we can see how IU has been, in many ways, very representative of the major directions of publicly-supported higher education, including becoming more accessible to Hoosier communities.
It was, for example, in 1919 that IU first offered “extension” courses in Northwest Indiana. IU’s presence in the Region expanded and consolidated during the next forty years, till, in 1959, the campus of what would become Indiana University Northwest was established in Gary with the opening of Tamarack Hall (the best account of these years is found in Jim Lane’s Steel Shavings, vol.35, 2004). Sixty years later, there are instructional buildings on both sides of Broadway and our wonderful Arts & Sciences Building spotlights our programs and resources in the arts and hosts the Gary campus of Ivy Tech Community College, which strengthens the transfer pathway to Bachelor’s-degree study.
The growth of regional campuses like IU Northwest is one of the significant developments in American higher education in the last century. Regional campuses makes the same IU-quality education accessible, convenient and responsive at the local level, for those who do not want to or cannot move to a residential campus. IU Northwest is representative of higher-education trends and its region. The diversity of Northwest Indiana is fully represented among our students and employees and we have, traditionally, adapted the academic program to the scheduling needs of learners, who cover a wide age range and, in addition to pursuing a Bachelor’s degree, often have multiple working and domestic responsibilities.
As part of the purpose of a regional campus, IU Northwest assigns strategic priority to community-based engagement, which commits us to be active members of the communities that we serve. Engagement, for us, is characterized by being responsive to our communities and developing activities and programs that are mutually beneficial. It is also an important way in which we enrich student learning, by making substantive working experiences part of the academic program. More than half of IU Northwest students contribute more than 140,000 service hours in Northwest Indiana communities each year and learn a great deal that will affect their individual futures and commitments.
A meaningful way to characterize these interdependent campus purposes is that IU Northwest has an “Anchor Mission” in Gary and Northwest Indiana that includes graduates who will provide the human-capital backbone of a future regional knowledge economy. But we also have a major economic impact that is calculated as at least double the value of the campus expenditure budget of more than $50M. A regional campus like IU Northwest is a major local enterprise.
Since IU Northwest is tightly linked to and reliant on our regional communities and residents, we are very sensitive to trends that affect them and, in turn, us. An example of this interdependency is the employment vs. degree-completion dilemma. When hourly employment of the kind that typically attracts those of college age, whether or not they are enrolled, is plentiful, as it is now, it can be a challenge to enable Northwest Indiana students and their families to see the importance of balancing an hourly job with college attendance. Particularly when poverty affects so many families in Northwest Indiana, hourly employment is not simply helpful with household and college expenses, it is, too often, a stark necessity. Still, there are very tangible, substantial and long-term benefits, for individuals and the economic health and quality of life of Northwest Indiana, from encouraging a facilitating degree completion among Region residents.
Indiana University has been a meaningful presence in Northwest Indiana for one hundred years. During that time, IU Northwest and the other regional campuses have become integral to Indiana University’s mission and purpose. As the University’s Bicentennial approaches we can take some pride and satisfaction in the role that IU Northwest has played in our Region since 1919.