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Higher education as an engine of development April 25, 2006

Posted by Tom in Economic Development.
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Professor Maurice Eisenstein, writing about the state of higher education in Northwest Indiana, makes a bold claim about the importance of expert level training capacity (read: world-class higher education) in the larger scheme of development:

One of the central facts about Twenty-First Century economic development is that it cannot occur and will not occur and has not occurred anywhere were there is not a first rate university structure. A university whose goal is to not only to educate the residents of the particular area but also to be of such superior quality in its research and graduate programs so as to attract the best and the brightest from other parts of the Country.

This university structure will also enable the students who graduate to want to stay in the area of the university. Studies have shown that students tend to remain within 75 miles of where they graduated from irrespective of where there "hometown" is.

He then goes on to discuss the higher education system in "Da Region," leading to a fascinating anticipated development:

NWI cannot develop economically without its own national university. In addition its tax dollars are being used to develop other parts of the State and to support none-Hoosier students. It is time to return economic development to NWI and the tax funds that go along with it.

To this end, the State legislators from NWI will introduce a bill in the next session of the legislature to change the status on NWI Universities to "metropolitan" designation. This will automatically change their funding and contribution, i.e. goals, in the region. If the Lafayette and Bloomington will not support these changes than NWI has to do what Indianapolis and Southern Indiana has done and that is to authorize its own board of Trustees.

Writing this blog from Northeast Indiana, and knowing that the local Indiana-Purdue hybrid campus (IPFW) has had the topic of a unique higher education identity (unique from IU and PU) on the table for some time, this development comes as surprising news. Forcing a divorce from Bloomington or West Lafayette through legislation is a drastic and profound move.

I'm not entirely sold on the notion that a split is the right thing to do for Indiana's regional campuses. IU and PU have a terrific stranglehold on public higher education resources in the Statehouse and does not actively foster unique capacities (like research) at its satellite campuses. But, if Eisenstein is to be believed on his assertion that a community needs a world-class research university to compete economically, then perhaps legislation is the only way to go.

My mind leads me back to the "culture of cheap" discussion, though. Does Indiana want to afford a handful of top-flight facilities? Plenty of evidence says it should – but I'm skeptical that it wants to foot that bill.

I'll be watching the Northwest Indiana higher education dialogue carefully through the next session of the Indiana General Assembly.

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