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In IPFW’s interest

The third and final meeting of the General Assembly’s Regional Campuses Study Committee is Wednesday, when IPFW officials have their last best shot to push for changes that will better define the university’s role in Indiana higher education.

The struggle to clarify its authority becomes even more important as enrollment declines and northeast Indiana residents need the university to respond to education and workforce needs. To its good fortune, IPFW has area lawmakers closely watching the discussion. They aren’t likely to be satisfied with reassurances from Purdue University-West Lafayette that things will change without a substantive agreement outlining the changes needed.

Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, has been the driving force in discussions that began nearly two years ago. He surely caught Purdue administrators’ attention by raising the possibility of an independent university in Fort Wayne. While students, faculty and the community overall haven’t pushed for total autonomy, IPFW needs and deserves more of the flexibility enjoyed by IUPUI, which is managed by Indiana University. Like IPFW, however, IUPUI offers degree programs from both IU and Purdue.

Committee member Jim Banks, a Republican state senator from Columbia City, outlined IPFW’s needs in an article published on these pages last month, beginning with a new classification from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education that better suits IPFW’s unique position in the state. He also called for an accelerated approval process for new master’s degree programs and a state funding formula that recognizes many of IPFW’s students don’t fit the mold of traditional college students. Many are working full time.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long attended the first of the study committee meetings this year, sending a quiet message that the panel’s assignment is to produce specific recommendations for the General Assembly to act upon. This should be one study committee where legislation isn’t sent to die.