Regional campuses like IPFW are essential parts of the higher education system in Indiana, new Purdue University President Mitch Daniels said during a visit Thursday.
Through visits to the regional campuses and learning more about them, Daniels said he hopes to obtain a better understanding of the support they need in their relationship with the flagship campus in West Lafayette.
"That's why I'm here and why I'll be back," he said.
Daniels' stop in Fort Wayne was part of a tour of all Purdue's regional campuses. He joined IPFW Chancellor Vicky Carwein in meeting with groups of students, faculty and administrators in the morning before conducting a forum.
IPFW is a regional campus of both Indiana University and Purdue, but is managed by Purdue under the terms of an agreement that is renewed every five years. After former Chancellor Michael Wartell was forced to retire in July under a mandatory retirement age policy, some changes have been suggested at the legislative level to allow IPFW more freedoms or even to become completely independent.
The forum Thursday was open to IPFW students, staff and faculty. About 150 people attended the event to hear a few words from Daniels followed by his answers to questions from the audience.
Since the decision to make the former governor president of Purdue University was announced about six months ago, Daniels said he has been learning a lot about the higher-education system he leads.
He said he expected yet another learning experience during his visit to IPFW.
"There's just an interesting person with something to teach me everywhere I go," he said.
In his opening remarks, Daniels emphasized the continued drive in the state to achieve a high percentage of adults with post-secondary degrees. He said great things are happening on regional campuses that serve a spectrum of students.
"The role of this campus and its counterparts is essential," he said.
During a later interview, Daniels said an important part of maintaining a positive relationship with regional campuses is balancing their autonomy with maintaining the high standards associated with the Purdue or Indiana University name on the degree students earn graduating from any of the system's campuses.
Daniels said the most surprising piece of information he has learned about IPFW is that the campus is not an exporter of students to the flagship campuses of Purdue and Indiana University in Bloomington, but draws students who wish to start and end their college experience at a regional campus.
The majority of the questions Daniels fielded during the forum focused on IPFW funding and degree affordability.
IPFW is currently facing a budget deficit of at least $4.2 million, but that figure could grow as high as $9 million depending on funding from the state. The university won't know how much funding it will receive until the legislature approves its two-year budget.
IPFW officials have said the shortfall can mostly be attributed to declining enrollment and is unlikely to be addressed without layoffs.
Daniels said higher-education institutions across the country are struggling with delivering a valuable product at an affordable price as well as catering the delivery to a variety of student needs and lifestyles. He assured those attending the forum Thursday that he's committed to ensuring that Purdue degrees are valuable and affordable.
But before asking for additional state funds, Daniels said, the system must first ensure it's not being wasteful. He said he will encourage evaluating how all university operations aid in achieving the main goals of education, research and engagement.
Daniels also said he's on board with the push from the Indiana Commission of Higher Education and the state legislature to tie funding to graduation rates and degree attainment.
He said he will continue to develop the relationship with IPFW to better address issues in the campus' relationship with Purdue.
"There's still so much to learn about how this great university can work better with that other one out west," he said.