Category Archives: Higher Education

Religious Freedom Testimony

As Christians, we live in a fallen world and deciding how best to navigate that reality and live out our convictions, is one of our greatest challenges.  That task is made harder by an administrative state that continues to push into every dimension of our lives.

Yesterday I took part in testimony at the Indiana Senate regarding a bill that would seek to safeguard the religious freedom of institutions like ours.  Let me explain why I testified.

IWU, like all religious institutions in our state, faces a constantly increasing gauntlet of regulations and administrative actions from local governments, from the state, and from the federal government.  The bill discussed yesterday in the Indiana Senate is an early version and may change (hopefully it will be amended to have even greater protections for religious freedom). The reason it may be helpful is that it seeks to provide strong and reasonable religious freedom protections for the Christian schools, social service agencies, adoption agencies, churches, and universities of our state.

As it stands, the bill gives religious organizations assurances about how to proceed in a world where the courts and private litigation have created considerable risk.  In many instances, when a state legislates and includes exemptions and a court later imposes a new civil right, the state that legislated has more protections than its sister states who waited–precisely because it included protections for religion in its positive law.

It is not inconceivable that the courts will force a sexual orientation nondiscrimination regime on our state.  But the very real possibility that they might means that there is prudential value in setting the terms of that legislation.

Religious exemptions in state laws also give faith communities protections that municipalities have not given.  Nearly 40% of Hoosiers live under a checkerboard of local ordinances that already give civil rights protections to members of the LGBT community without granting religious freedom protections.  The bill put forward in the Senate would bring those ordinances into line with any state protections, including religious freedom protections.

My understanding from the hearing is that this measure would give unprecedented protection to small businesses open to the public to refuse to do wedding services when doing so violates a religious conviction.  No other state has done that in its public accommodations law.   This law would have protected our IWU alumna who was sued because her conscience would not let her provide photography for a gay union ceremony.  Where conflicts do arise the bill would provide protections against frivolous or unfounded accusations of discrimination.

The bill would align Indiana law with federal law by allowing religious organizations to contract with the state without having to abandon or deny their sincerely held religious convictions.  This is a crucial provision for any religious institution that contracts with the state, including private Christian schools whose students benefit from school vouchers.

As president of a Christian university owned by a church that holds very traditional views on sexuality and marriage I find that we are increasingly under pressure from legal, regulatory, and administrative actions that threaten our identity and  our values.

We serve a diverse student body with respect and good will.  We serve all of our students with the love Christ as we provide a high quality university education. There does not appear to be any perfect way to create the legal space we need to remain true to the values and convictions that shape our identity while respecting those who disagree with us.  Nevertheless, I believe it is imperative for us to do whatever we can today to provide safeguards for the religious freedoms that we have enjoyed for generations.

Local students benefit from Community Foundation and IWU scholarship support

We have the will to make Marion and Grant County better places to live and work.  It isn’t easy to know where to start.

I’ve become convinced there’s no better place to start than by investing in our children and young people.  For this reason I am excited about a new collaboration between The Community Foundation and Indiana Wesleyan University.

Grant County does a great job graduating our young people from high school.  As reported by the Indiana Youth Institute Kids Count, Grant County has an above state average graduation rate of 91.7 percent.

Now we need to make sure they can go to college.  If we can keep them close to home through college, chances are they will stay and invest their skills close to home when they graduate.

Providing Grant County students an affordable, local education for the purpose of cultivating and maintaining a healthy community is a goal both the Community Foundation and IWU share.  Together we’ve identified scholarships that will combine to provide local students the opportunity to receive a quality college education at a lower cost.

IWU - Community Foundation

The Community Foundation is committed to connecting people, resources and causes to promote a better Grant County. One of the ways the Community Foundation does this is by providing Grant County students with more than 130 donor-funded scholarships totaling over $500,000 every year.

“Our hope is that by students attending a local university like IWU, they will get a local job and continue to better Grant County,” said Cassie Fleming, grants manager at the Community Foundation. “It really gives students an opportunity to succeed and pushes them to pursue higher education.”

In addition to the Community Foundation’s opportunities, IWU provides a variety of scholarships dedicated to local students. The Triangle Scholarship provides each recipient between $2,000 and $4,500 annually, and the Emerging Leaders Consortium ensures each recipient’s tuition is fully paid. Grant Count students and their parents can also benefit from IWU Near You, a pre-college program that helps participants navigate the college search environment successfully.

I am glad to partner with the good folks at the Community Foundation.  I’m even more excited to pool our resources to invest in Grant County young people.

The Community Foundation scholarship application deadline is Jan. 31, 2016. Apply here. Application deadlines for IWU scholarships vary. Call 765-677-6507 to speak with an IWU Admissions counselor for more information.

National Science Foundation Scholarships Will Directly Impact Grant County Area

When I took office as President of Indiana Wesleyan University in July of 2014, one of the first goals I announced was to expand the footprint of the University in the Marion and Grant County community.

My commitment received a major boost earlier this year when we learned that IWU had received a $623,337 grant from the prestigious National Science Foundation to provide scholarships for students interested in the STEM disciplines: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The grant will be used to provide four-year scholarships to 18 academically talented but financially needy students to pursue undergraduate degrees in biology, chemistry and physics. While the scholarships are open to all IWU students, special effort will be made to recruit minorities, women and under-represented groups in the greater Grant County area.

In coming months, IWU representatives will be working with science teachers and guidance counselors at area high schools to begin identifying and recruiting candidates for the scholarships.

The first nine scholarship recipients will begin their studies at IWU in September of 2016. Five of the students will receive $9,000 annually, and four will receive $6,000 annually. A second group of nine students will start classes in September of 2017 with the same financial assistance.

IWU - Natural Sciences

IWU also will offer a Science Spotlight Day on November 20 to give prospective students an overview of the IWU Division of Natural Sciences. The program will include a special information session geared toward potential candidates for the National Science Foundation scholarships.

Click here to register for the Science Spotlight Day. The registration period ends November 19.

This is not the first National Science Foundation grant that IWU has received, but it is by far the largest. Almost as important as the money is the fact that IWU has joined the ranks of some of America’s top research universities.

The simple title of the grant proposal, “Scholarships for Boosting the Scientific Workforce in Rural Central Indiana,” doesn’t quite capture the excitement of what it means for IWU and the greater Grant County area.

Here’s how the owner of a high-tech business, located just a few blocks from the IWU campus, reacted to the announcement of the grant: “This means that someday I may be able to hire the kind of people I need just down the street and keep more Grant County students living and working in Grant County.”

In coming months and years, I look forward to seeking additional ways to expand IWU’s involvement in our local community.

Third Year Questions

When I was the Provost at IWU the most common question people asked was, “What is a provost?”

IWU - Third Year QuestionsMy favorite response was, “A marginally useful academic bureaucrat.”  I used that answer sparingly, of course.

Heading into my third year as President the most common question I get is, “Why did you do THAT!?”  Well, they don’t usually ask me this question.  They ask each other, and occasionally an old friend will pass along the question to me.

Seriously, the most common questions I get are, “Are you enjoying the job?” or “What do you like most about the job?”

Being President is a consuming pursuit.  I do enjoy it and am enormously privileged to serve the IWU community in this way.  But this position is different from any other I’ve held in at least one interesting way.  On the one hand, I meet and interact with many, many fascinating people. On the other hand, the depth of those interactions can tend to be superficial.  The Presidency can become an isolating experience.

The other day I talked about this with Dr. Ken Schenck, a friend and colleague I’ve known since graduate school days.  At my invitation, here’s his guest blog post about being president.

“I get the impression that being a college President can sometimes be an isolating situation. You spend a lot of time dealing with external constituencies, and you can sometimes seem distant to those of us who are “land locked” on a campus. So the idea emerged to ask you some questions here on the blog, perhaps even to give people a forum to let you know what questions are on their minds. Here are a few starter questions that came to mind.

1. You are now beginning your third year as President of IWU. How would you characterize the first two years of your presidency and what would you say will be your focus in this third year?

2. You have been at IWU for over twenty years. How would you say that IWU has changed from what it was in the past?

3. IWU has undergone some structural changes and financial tightening in the last couple years. Do you see many additional changes still to come? Are we still in transition or is the current structure more or less what it will be for some time, as best as you can foresee?

4. Academic institutions can develop strong “us-them” tensions between faculty and administration. What words of hope and trust would you offer the faculty of IWU that the administration is their partner and not their adversary?

5. How has being President of IWU changed you personally? How do you maintain balance in your life?

Now it’s your turn. What are the kinds of questions on your mind for President Wright? I suspect he would like to know, even if he can’t answer all of them.”

Bill Clinton once said that being president is like running a cemetery.  You have a lot of people under you and nobody is listening.

Fortunately, that hasn’t been my experience so far.  I work with a stellar team of faculty, administrators, and staff.  In case anyone is interested, I’ll tackle these questions in the next few days.

What STEM Means for IWU – and for Grant County

The National Science Foundation (NSF) coined the acronym STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in an effort to call attention to the need for more college graduates to be trained in those four academic disciplines.

Having sounded the call, NSF has been putting its money where its mouth is since Congress created the independent federal agency in 1950. In case you missed the announcement a few weeks ago, Indiana Wesleyan University is a recent beneficiary of NSF – and in a major way!

The NSF mission is, among other things, to promote the progress of science and to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare.  The agency has an annual budget of $7.3 billion and funds 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities.

IWU received a $623,337 grant from NSF for a project titled “Scholarships for Boosting the Scientific Workforce in Rural Central Indiana.” The title itself does not do the project justice.

science3

Here’s how the owner of a high-tech business, located just a few blocks from the IWU campus, reacted to the announcement of the grant: “This means that someday I may be able to hire the kind of people I need just down the street and keep more Grant County students in Grant County.”

Exactly. The money will be used over the next four years to provide scholarships and various support programs for 18 academically talented and financially needy IWU students to study one of the STEM-related sciences.

(IWU does not currently offer engineering degrees, but recently completed a major study that is being reviewed by our Board of Trustees. If approved, IWU could be offering degrees in electrical, mechanical and biomedical engineering as early as the fall of 2018.)

The STEM scholarships will be open to all IWU students but special effort will be made to recruit minorities, women and under-represented groups in the greater Grant County area.

Almost as important as the NSF grant money alone, is the fact that IWU has joined the ranks of some of America’s top research universities. The NSF funded only 100 of 420 proposals, and IWU is the rare exception on the list of recipients as a small, private university.

It is not the first NSF grant our University has received, but it is the largest. I have the confidence in our faculty and administration to believe there will be more.

STEM – By the Numbers

science226 million: Number of STEM-related jobs in America.
20: Percent of all jobs in America that are STEM-related.
21st: Ranking of American 15-year-olds in science test scores among 34 developed nations.
30: Percent of 12th graders who took the ACT test and are ready for college-level work in science.
2.6: Average hours per week that elementary students spend on science, down from 2.9 hours a decade ago.
4.1: Percent unemployment rate for STEM occupations.
11: Number of states that allow students to count computer science courses toward graduation requirements. (Indiana is one of them.)
90: Percent of engineering jobs that will require at least a bachelor’s degree by 2022.
$79,000: Annual mean wage for engineers.
$45,900: Annual mean wage for all occupations.

Source: STEM Education Coalition

IWU Students Say ‘Thanks’ to Indiana Legislators

Indiana Wesleyan University - Student Lobby Day

IWU’s delegation to the annual Student Lobby Day at the Indiana State House included (left to right) Chris Pinyot, Jacqueline “Jacki” Marvel, Anna Mast, DeAnn Cowell, Jordan Maure and Clayton Soultz, all students; and Thomas Ratliff, IWU Associate Vice President for Financial Aid.

Six Indiana Wesleyan University students joined their counterparts from four other Indiana private, nonprofit colleges and universities on Tuesday to deliver three messages in person to legislators at the Indiana State House. The messages were:

  • Sincere thanks for the legislators’ ongoing commitment to state need-based financial aid for students.
  • The urgent need for their continued support of this program.
  • The critical importance of increasing the number of Hoosiers with bachelor’s degrees to Indiana’s economy.

More than 1,600 IWU students – 428 residential students and 1,201 non-residential students – shared just over $6 million in Indiana state aid for college expenses during the 2013-2014 academic year.

The maximum state grant, which is for students who qualify as 21st Century Scholars, is capped at $7,570 for the 2014-2015 academic year.

IWU students who contributed to the 2015 Student Lobby Day, sponsored by the Independent Colleges of Indiana, were Clayton Soultz, Jonesboro; DeAnn Colwell, Plainfield; Chris Pinyot, Fishers; Jacqueline “Jacki” Marvel, Portage; Jordan Maure, Walkerton; and Anna Mast, Peru.

Thomas Ratliff, Associate Vice President for Financial Aid at IWU, accompanied the students.

Students from other ICI member institutions will participate in similar student lobby days on March 10 and April 7.

The students gathered Tuesday at the Indiana History Center where ICI President Richard Ludwick briefed them on current legislative issues involving state-funded, need-based student aid. The students then walked to the State House to meet their hometown legislators.

Indiana’s independent colleges and universities are a smart investment for students and the state, graduating twice as many of their students in four years as any other sector of higher education in the state. The high graduation rate costs the state less per degree because the campuses themselves receive no state funding while contributing almost $5 billion in total economic impact around the state.

“Our goal is not only to raise awareness in the legislature of the importance of state financial aid – to put students’ names and faces on the state funds they appropriate – but also to introduce our students to how the legislative process works, how it affects their lives and futures, and how they can plan a role in shaping its direction,” Ludwick said.

Independent Colleges of Indiana serves as the collective voice for the state’s 31 private, nonprofit colleges and universities. ICI member institutions enroll some 100,000 students (about one-fifth of Indiana’s college students) and annually produce one-third of all bachelor’s degrees in Indiana.

CCCU Institutions Offer Financial As Well as Spiritual Advantages

The cost of college attendance continues to be of great interest to our prospective students here at Indiana Wesleyan University.  Keeping a Christ-centered higher education accessible has been part of our institutional DNA since our founding in 1920.

The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) released the results of its annual tuition survey just before the end of the year.  The survey tells an interesting story.

More than 400,000 students enroll annually in a member institution of the CCCU in search of a Christ-centered education. A less obvious benefit is the cost of attending one of those 117 colleges in the United States.

The CCCU tuition study confirms that member institutions continue to offer an excellent value in comparison to other private four-year U.S. colleges. Not only are CCCU colleges less expensive to begin with, annual increases in tuition and fees are growing at a slower rate than other private four-year colleges.

Here are comparisons for the 2014-2015 academic year:

Type of Institution              Mean              Percent Change
Private four-year                  $31,231          +3.7
CCCU colleges                      $25,112          +3.0
Public four-year                    $ 9,139          +2.9

To bring this closer to home, Indiana Wesleyan University has held tuition increases to 2 percent a year for the past two academic years. IWU’s current tuition and fees for residential students on the Marion campus total $24,102, which ranks 70th among all CCCU institutions.

That number is what colleges call the “sticker price.” When financial aid is factored in, the actual cost to attend a private college generally compares favorably with state universities. The average per student financial aid package at IWU is $17,148 a year, which, in effect, reduces the average tuition cost to $6,954.

There are about 1,600 private colleges in America, of which 900 have a religious affiliation. CCCU members are intentionally Christ centered, which means they are committed to transforming lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth.

Collectively, CCCU colleges employ 30,000 faculty members and offer 350 undergraduate majors and 150 graduate majors. The 1.8 alumni of CCCU institutions are leaders and contributors in all sectors of our society and economy.

The bottom line – spiritually, financially and academically – is that CCCU institutions have a lot to offer parents and prospective students.

IWU Ranked No. 2 on List Of Best Online Colleges

Student Center Exterior Sunrise Evening - 2771Indiana Wesleyan University had some good company recently when Best Value Schools released a survey that ranked IWU No. 2 on a list of The 30 Best Online Colleges 2014.

The University of Maryland was the top-rated school in the online rankings. Others on the list are the University of North Carolina, Penn State University, the University of Nebraska and the University of Central Florida.

Iris Stone, a freelance writer and researcher, conducted the survey.  To say that Stone’s survey was carefully researched, would be an understatement. She consulted multiple sources, including U.S. News & World Report and Forbes magazines, and she established seven criteria, such as retention rates, graduation rates, student-to-faculty ratio and academic ratings.

“Attending Indiana Wesleyan University Online is a unique experience characterized by significant student collaboration, capped class sizes for an intimate learning experience and customized online curriculum designed specifically for adults,” Stone said. ”IWU insists that online students receive the same treatment and rigor of material as traditional campus students.”

IWU students who completed polls on College Prowler website said “professors care about their students’ success” and are “passionate about the topics they teach.” Students also said, “Classrooms incorporate new technology effectively.”

It is that kind of thinking and initiative, of course, that led IWU to become one of the first universities in the country to offer online education. Today, IWU has 8,000 online students – two-thirds of the enrollment in adult education programs.

When IWU offered its first online class in 1996 for students in our adult education programs, the move was viewed with suspicion in the higher education community. Truth be told the non-traditional adult education format that IWU had begun in 1985 still was not widely accepted.

We were convinced, however, that we could be successful if we kept our focus on the content of our adult programs – both online and onsite – and not on the way our classes were delivered. Quality always was, and still is, the top priority.

Our commitment to that goal was rewarded with the release of The 30 Best Online Colleges 2014.

View the rankings here.

Counter-Evidence on Higher Education’s Supposed Demise

Indiana Wesleyan University Buildings -  (1)Between Facebook, Twitter, and the various “news” outlets I read, these seem to be the days of bad news and questionable behavior.

The day I wrote this, four of the 16 stories on the front page of the USA Today digital site were public apologies of one kind or another.   My newsfeeds are chock full of dire predictions about my country, my world, my health, my industry, my faith – you name it.

I don’t mean to minimize the reality of this world’s evils and tragedies.  Too many of our neighbors face horrors beyond belief.  But here in the land of the free and the brave, I wonder if there has ever been a time when people of such privilege were more routinely offended, angry, worried, and pessimistic about their future.

If there is such a thing as “bad news fatigue” I think I have it.

Let me bring this closer to home.  These days many predict a dire future for American colleges and universities.  An influential friend posted this on his blog recently: “Some educational experts predict loads of universities won’t be around in twenty years. Many four-year institutions will not make it beyond the next four years. Have you looked at the numbers?” (Tim Elmore)

Well, Tim is right.  The picture isn’t pretty at many institutions.  Tim offers his typical brilliant suggestions.

But it’s easy to lose sight of what is right about what we do amid the clamor and the click bait.

I offer some counter-evidence.  The following facts are from a report released by the Council for Independent Colleges (Securing America’s Future: The Power of Liberal Arts Education).

You’ve heard that most college students don’t graduate.  Collectively, we can and should do better at shepherding students to completion.

  • But “59% of graduates of smaller private colleges finish within four years.”  For comparison, “38% of graduates of regional public universities finish within four years.”

You’ve heard there’s no future in a liberal arts education.  Think again.

  • “20% of PhDs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields graduated from smaller private [liberal arts] colleges.”
  • “Graduates who studied the liberal arts have the broad knowledge most employers—80% in a recent survey—say they want.”
  • “The overwhelming majority of employers (93%) believe that a college graduate’s ability to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than his or her undergraduate major.”

You’ve heard that diverse students aren’t well served at private colleges?  You might be surprised.

  • Private colleges enroll a similar proportion of minority students as public universities—about one third of the student population.  But students of color graduate at higher rates from private colleges and in a shorter average period of time.  For example, the graduation rate for black students at private colleges is 45% (compared with 40% at public universities), while the graduation rate for Hispanic students at private colleges is 62% (compared with 50% at public universities).”

You’ve heard that low-income students are better served at community colleges.  Not so fast.

  • “Low-income students are more likely to graduate from a private four-year college than a public university—a68% graduation rate compared with 61% at public universities.”

You’ve heard that first-generation students don’t succeed at private colleges.  Wrong.

  • 70% of first-generation students graduated from private colleges within six years.

You’ve heard that most college graduates stagger under crushing debt.  Some of us are, indeed, slowly pricing ourselves out of our students’ reach.  We MUST reduce our costs.  But, the national picture may surprise you.

  • “One quarter of students who graduated with a bachelor’s degree from an independent four-year college or university did not have any educational debt and nearly half had less than $20,000 in debt.”
  • The median debt of BA recipients in 2011-2012 at independent 4-year colleges was $27,000.
  • “Although the average published tuition and fees at private four-year colleges and universities is $30,090, students pay only $12,460 on average.” (NCES)

No one has guaranteed the future of IWU.  The only guarantee we have is that God will always be with us as our greatest source of guidance, courage, and purpose.  Under God’s care and leading we must change and adapt with the times.  I’m confident we have a future, and I’m confident it will be far brighter than today’s bad news predicts.

Hoosier 10K: A Low-Debt Pathway for Indiana Students with High Financial Needs

Shortly after I became president, I embarked on a listening tour that lasted most of the summer. During that tour I spent time with our residential campus enrollment counselors who work directly with prospective IWU students and their families.

They told me stories of students who want to come to IWU, and whose families want their students to come here, but who cannot close the gap between their aid and the cost to attend. Many students who do attend will take on more debt than we or they would like, and too many are forced to turn away from IWU simply because they can’t make up the gap.

This should not be. IWU was founded on the principle of providing access to anyone who truly wanted to pursue a degree in an openly Christ-centered environment.

sunriseWe are called not only to offer such an education, but to offer it to as many students as we can. We must find every way possible to make education available to the broadest number of students at a reasonable and accessible cost.

I have called this our pursuit to become a high-impact, low-debt Christian university.  This summer, Dr. Keith Newman and the leadership team for our residential programs willingly took on the challenge to identify pathways that would allow students to graduate from IWU’s residential campus with no more than $10,000 in total debt.

Our Board of Trustees embraced this goal at their October meeting.

The team has made it their first priority to identify a low-debt pathway for a very specific group of students – our highest-financial-need Indiana students.

I am delighted to report that our team has identified a pathway for our highest-need Indiana residents to attend IWU for four years and graduate with no more than $10,000 in student loan debt. 

As we announced to the media today, we’re calling this the Hoosier 10K Plan.

This program rests on some simple, sound principles for student success. Our associate vice president for financial aid, Thomas Ratliff, drew upon the myriad options offered by our excellent financial aid department to create the basic building blocks of the plan.

2002_IN_ProofA student who follows the Hoosier 10K Plan will:

  • Be an Indiana resident
  • Have $0 in expected family contributions to their education annually (as determined by the Federal government)
  • File for federal student aid by March 10th prior to fall enrollment
  • Earn and maintain eligibility to retain an IWU Faculty Scholarship (or a similar scholarship of higher amount)
  • Have an annual $900 Church Matching Scholarship
  • Be willing to work 10 to 15 hours weekly during the school year towards tuition costs
  • Actively pursue additional outside scholarship throughout their college experience
  • Consistently earn 30 credit hours per year towards their degree

This plan will be available for new students beginning fall 2014. IWU offers a wide range of other options that can add to or replace aspects of this plan. If you would like to learn more about how to qualify for the Hoosier 10K Plan, please contact Daniel Solms, IWU Financial Aid Director, at daniel.solms@indwes.edu or (866) 468-6498.

I am excited that we’ve identified this low-debt pathway for Indiana students who need the financial help the most. But this is just our first shot at addressing the “accessibility and affordability” challenge.

Our team is working hard right now on further solutions that will help ease the financial burden for more of the students and families who would like to come to IWU.

We are determined for IWU to truly become a high-impact, low-debt Christian university.

Stay tuned for more.