Why does Indiana have such a large number of strong independent colleges?
The president of Independent Colleges of Indiana, T.K. Olson, is understandably boastful about the growth in enrollment at the state's non-public institutions of higher education. Comparing 1990 to 2000, he notes a 20.6 percent increase in independent college enrollments, and only an 8.4 percent increase for the state's seven public schools, 82 percent of which is attributed to Ivy Tech State College.
"This academic year, 27 percent of four-year undergraduates are enrolled in our schools," says Olson. "Generally speaking, the Midwest has a higher percentage of private colleges. Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and to some extent Michigan, have a higher percentage than most of the rest of the country." In the western part of the U.S., he says, there aren't even enough independent schools to warrant private college associations.
Douglas Bennett, president of Earlham College in Richmond, says, "Indiana has a tremendous wealth of independent colleges and universities that are a bargain to the state," considering the state's direct support of public universities. "I'm not sure the state has much perception of that degree of strength." He cites a recent paper published by the Commission for Higher Education titled "The Future of Higher Education in Indiana: Moving Toward a True System," which failed to make mention of the state's independent colleges. "I can't imagine another area in which the government would fail to mention the private sector," says Bennett.
The commission may have snubbed the independents, but Olson says the General Assembly has been generous, placing Indiana in the top half-dozen states in the country in tuition assistance for students in public or private institutions.
"Independent schools need to continue to seek bipartisan support from the state legislature," says Alan Harre, president of Valparaiso University in Porter County. In addition, he says legislators should recognize that schools like Valparaiso, with 70 percent of its students coming from outside the state, bring money into Indiana, adding value to the state's economy.
Enrollment at independent colleges will continue to grow, Olson predicts, as parents and students get over the initial sticker-shock comparison of $4,200 for Indiana University versus $14,000 for one of his schools. Ninety percent of the state's private-college students receive some sort of financial aid. For example, Lilly Endowment's community scholars' program provides full tuition for 360 students a year, and Olson says 60 percent of recipients choose private schools.
But the biggest source of student assistance continues to come from the successful...