To the Point for the week of 11/2/06


WHAT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY of higher education institutions in the State of Indiana? Are they supposed to educate the children of the people who live here; or are they supposed to work to attract the best and brightest – no matter where they live?

An article in The Indianapolis Star recently reported that Indiana’s public universities – Indiana University, Purdue University, Ball State University, and Indiana State University – are turning down applications from Indiana students wanting to go to college, and instead are using those slots to accept students from out of state.

The article said that about one-third of the undergraduate students at Purdue and IU this year are from out of state, which is up by 27 percent since 1998. Ball State’s out of state students are growing at an even higher rate.

So the question is: which is right?

Do we want universities here that have national reputations, but those reputations are built on working to attract out of state students? Or do we want to say that because these are public, state-supported universities, then the first priority should be providing higher education opportunities for the kids who live here?

Remember: public universities are supporter by your tax dollars. If you helping pay, shouldn’t your child have the right to attend?

But statistics show that more and more, in state students are being turned down in favor of bringing in out of state students. In fact, the article said that 70-percent of the $35 million that Indiana University handed out last year in financial aid went to out of state students.

Should there be a mission element to public universities?

I have a daughter who attends Purdue University in West Lafayette. When she was looking at colleges, she had Purdue at the top of her list. Because Purdue is heavily involved in the extension programs and in the FFA program across the state; as parents we felt that our daughter having been heavily involved in both programs, perhaps there might be some financial incentives coming our way.

When she was accepted, we basically got a letter that said “If you want your daughter to attend Purdue, here’s the bill.”

No credit for 4-H. No credit for FFA. No credit for anything.

Here’s your bill.

Now, I believe that she is getting a quality education at Purdue; but fortunately we are able to pay for it. But the question comes: Shouldn’t all students who live in Indiana and who want to attend a public university have the right to do so?

Proponents of the plan to attract more out of state students say that what has really happened is that the state universities have raised their minimum admission standards; and that in the long run it will improve the education level here in the state because students will know that they have to study harder and score higher on their SAT in order to get into IU or Purdue.

Maybe, but what about that average student who works just as hard and whose dreams are just as real?

In the article, Carmel High School guidance counselor Rich Allen questioned the logic.

“You have a seat in a classroom and an Indiana kid with a 2.7 grade point average and an SAT of 900 or 1,000, and you say ‘We’re going to give that seat to an out-of-state kid,’ that’s your choice,” Rich Allen said in the article. “But what are you saying to the kid in Indiana?”

Now what makes all of this really coincidental is that this same Rich Allen was my high school U.S. History teacher when I was in school at Centerville in the 1970s. I came from a family where my parents worked hard but had not attended college, but they wanted to make sure that their sons had that opportunity.

Rich Allen served as a mentor to me while I was looking at colleges and trying to decide what to do and where to do it at. He helped guide me through the process, and took the time to make sure that I was making good decisions based on the information that I had and the career path that I wanted to take.

He taught me about colleges, and he taught me about life; and I still appreciate his friendship each and everyday.

Rich Allen was a football player at Hagerstown High School; and he probably didn’t pay as close of attention to his grades as he should have. But somewhere in the mix, some admissions counselor decided that college should take a chance on this kid named Rich Allen – and that chance paid off because he is an outstanding leader of young people.

How many successful people out in our community today wouldn’t be where they are without a state university taking a chance and admitting them?

This isn’t about national prestige or recognition. What it should be about is setting aside a minimum number of freshman admissions each year to students who graduate from Indiana high schools.

The mission of our public universities should be to turn out the best and the brightest, but who’s to say that those students aren’t already here, walking up and down the hallways of Indiana high schools right now?

Isn’t it ironic that we have students in Indiana who can’t get into IU or Purdue or Ball State, but are quickly accepted at out of state universities and colleges? When our young people leave, most of the time they stay away.

If we want to keep our young people here, then we need to insist that our public universities focus on educating Indiana kids and preparing them for careers right here in state.

This shouldn’t be about the national reputation that a university has. Teachers at Ball State. Business professionals at IU. Engineers at Purdue.

Hoosier kids deserve to pursue those dreams right here at home.