When Dave Skelton started at IPFW in 1966, two years after it was established, enrollment had already doubled to 6,000 students, all of whom took classes in the only building on campus – Kettler Hall.
Today, the campus boasts an enrollment of more than 13,000 students in nine colleges and schools and offers more than 200 graduate and undergraduate degree programs through Indiana University and Purdue University.
The fifth-largest public university in the state and largest university in northeast Indiana has 16 men’s and women’s NCAA Division I athletic teams that compete in the Summit League and are known as the IPFW Mastodons.
But that wasn’t the case when Skelton was hired.
A sports program wasn’t even developed until the early 1970s, he said.
Skelton taught math, research and statistics before serving as an assistant dean for student services, director of athletics from 1979 to 1987, including a stint as compliance officer when the university moved from Division II to Division I, and was associate dean of the School of Education from 1994 until his retirement in 2001.
Skelton has seen not only the growth of athletic programs, but also the growth of the campus and buildings, community involvement, student services, residence halls and commencements, he said.
The university is celebrating its 50th anniversary with events throughout the school year and will host a open campus community event with music, food, entertainment and more on Sept. 15.
IPFW currently boasts a 688-acre campus with 40 buildings and 55,000 alumni – 80 percent of whom live and work in northeast Indiana.
Merging 2 schools
In 1917, Indiana University opened an extension program in Fort Wayne. After World War II, there was a clamor for certification courses, so those were added.
Purdue University followed suit.
Coincidentally, the two universities’ extension offices came to occupy two downtown buildings back-to-back, said Eleanor Hannah, a history professor at IPFW who is chronicling the school’s history.
The IU Extension was housed in the former Lutheran Institute, 1120 S. Barr St., purchased in 1939, and the Purdue Extension occupied the former Catholic Community Center at the corner of Barr and Jefferson Boulevard after buying it in 1946 or 1947, she said.
People liked that, Hannah said of the schools’ proximity. They started talking about combining the two.
It was a very collaborative project that involved the entire community.
IPFW’s first building, Kettler Hall, was built in 1964 and was named after Alfred Kettler Sr., who helped establish the joining of IU and Purdue into one university.
Although the building was not projected to need any expansions until 1972, the student body had outgrown the building within its first three years, Hannah said.
Even then, the complaint heard most often is the same complaint we hear today: There’s never enough parking, she said, laughing.
The campus was an integral part of the community with day and evening students, traveling exhibits and lectures and numerous productions and speakers at the Purdue Indiana Theatre – dubbed PIT – beginning with a performance of Moliere’s The Imaginary Invalid in 1964, Hannah said.
Still a good deal
Fort Wayne native Michael Kanning has two degrees from IPFW – one from Purdue University and one from Indiana University – and is president of the IPFW Alumni Association board.
Kanning, 46, was able to work full time and obtain degrees in a related field, a story shared by many IPFW alumni.
Kanning works as a project manager for Medical Protective in Fort Wayne, a Berkshire Hathaway company that is the nation’s highest-rated medical malpractice insurance carrier. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Purdue in 1992 and an MBA from IU in 1999.
I was working part time and full time while getting my undergraduate degree, Kanning said. It took me six years to get a bachelor’s degree and five years to get my MBA.
It would have been impossible for Kanning to continue working in Fort Wayne while obtaining two prestigious degrees on the campuses of IU and Purdue, he said.
It’s still great value, and the university offers programs and degrees that are applicable to jobs in this region, he said.
Raija Ochola, 23, is from a small town near Kisumu, Kenya, and is attending IPFW to obtain a master’s degree in psychology.
After graduating in May with a bachelor’s degree, Ochola wanted to go to graduate school but had no idea how she would pay for it.
She had worked at IPFW’s Student Life and Admissions offices while attending school there and was beyond excited when the university offered her a graduate assistantship in the Office of Advancement.
They enabled me to continue my education, Ochola said. It’s been a great experience, and I do not see myself as a Purdue or IU student, but a proud IPFW student.
Ochola had been somewhat familiar with IPFW because when she was younger, she lived in Fort Wayne and attended Holy Cross Lutheran School and Concordia High School for two years while her father obtained a degree in theology at Concordia Theological Seminary.
I was in track and cross-country at Concordia, and we often practiced at IPFW, she said.
Her family returned to Kenya when Ochola was a sophomore. She finished high school and studied for two years at Daystar University in Nairobi, then was selected for a study abroad program at Bethel University in Minnesota.
On Christmas break, I visited friends in Fort Wayne and decided to take a tour of IPFW and knew that’s where I wanted to get my degree, she said.
After getting a master’s degree in counseling, Ochola plans to work and get as much experience as possible before returning to her family and community in Kenya.
Psychology is a growing field at home, and my experience and education here will make me a much better counselor, she said.
IPFW is the only comprehensive educational facility in the area, Chancellor Vicky Carwein said. We are uniquely positioned, and by combining IU and Purdue programs at IPFW, we can offer the best of both.
Students can take courses from one or both schools. And while organizing the complex setup is a headache for some staff members, it is completely invisible to the students, Carwein said.
Only here can a student get a music degree from IU and an engineering degree from Purdue University, Carwein said. No where else can you do that.
In the next six years, students’ success will continue to be the school’s top priority, she said.
The university has a goal of 1,600 baccalaureate graduates by 2020, she said. Last year, there were 1,341.
Other six-year strategic plan goals include recruiting and retaining students, creating a more diverse campus, more research and scholarly activities for faculty and students, internal and external academic collaborations, serving as a regional intellectual, cultural and economic hub for global competitiveness, improving the support of stakeholders and obtaining philanthropic and public support for strategic priorities.
A critical component of fostering student success is improving graduation rates.
Only about 5 percent of IPFW students obtain a degree in four years, Carwein said. About 25 percent take six years, and 50 percent take eight years to graduate, she said.
Six years to graduate is the standard rule for universities, but performance standards come from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, which is very focused on a four-year graduation rate, said Wendy Kobler, vice chancellor for advancement.
School funding is also based on those performance standards.
With a budget of $107 million a year, Kobler and Carwein hope legislators will bring about changes in those standards and, as a result, the funding formula.
It’s a narrow gap in what it costs to produce a baccalaureate graduate and what we get paid to do that, Carwein said.
Purdue University currently manages IPFW, but last week, a study by the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership recommended that Indiana University, not Purdue, manage the campus.
In February, a legislative push to have IPFW designated as a metropolitan campus failed. The distinction would have allowed the university to bypass some regional rules, including a limitation for on-campus housing for students. The legislation also would have allowed new degree and doctoral programs.
IPFW will soon offer new initiatives in health care education, including a doctoral program next year for nurse practitioners.
This region has strong needs for health care, technical and advanced manufacturing graduates, Kobler said.
The school is partnering with other entities, including the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce and the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, to meet those specified needs, she said.
This is another example of our involvement with the community, Carwein said. We recognize we need to be more responsive to the region’s needs, and employers realize they need a way to garner those resources.
Faculty and students remain loyal to IPFW, and many continue to support the school years after they leave.
Skelton is one of those loyal fans.
Witnessing the growth of IPFW firsthand over the years has been such a pleasure, he said.
So much so that he continues to volunteer at IPFW for special projects and as a tutor for the athletic program.
I like to keep in touch, he said.