TERRE HAUTE —
Hefty obstacles are crumbling. Indiana State University is serving Terre Haute, allowing both to grow and move forward.
The separation between the city and campus, entrenched for decades, is disappearing. Likewise, a long stretch of dwindling ISU enrollment is over. Student engagement in the community is lively and earning national recognition. The university has redeveloped a niche in the marketplace as a useful, affordable choice as a destination for prospective Hoosier students.
ISU has got its groove back. Newly released statistics validate that sense of rejuvenation.
Fall enrollment stands at 12,448, the highest level since 1972. That overall student head count marks a 2.7-percent increase from 2012 and five consecutive years of fall enrollment increases. The University Honors Program includes 306 freshmen and 964 students total, both record highs. The creation of new master’s degree and doctoral health-care programs boosted graduate-student enrollment by 7 percent to a record 2,180.
With a statewide emphasis on raising the four-year completion rates for ISU and Indiana’s other public colleges, the university also improved on the number of students staying in school. ISU experienced a 5-percent rise in freshman-to-sophomore retention the past two years, with 63.5 percent of students surviving that crucial transition. Among 21st Century Scholars — a program providing tuition funds at in-state universities to low-income Hoosier kids — 62.2 percent at ISU continued from their freshman to sophomore years, the highest since 2009.
Not surprisingly, campus housing is full. More accommodations are on the way. A new housing project should be completed in 2014. A renovation of Erickson Hall converted former classrooms and faculty offices into space to house 250 students.
Anyone who has walked downtown since the fall semester began Aug. 20 can see the growth. Young collegians are everywhere — on foot and bikes, and in cars. Expansion of the campus’ boundaries triggers occasional controversies, but has also dismantled old, unofficial barriers between the city and the university, giving students and locals a more palpable college-town atmosphere. The benefits are mutual.
Larger, and perhaps emboldened by that stature, the campus community actively engages its neighboring residents. Last week, the 2013 Washington Monthly College Guide ranked Indiana State first in the nation in community service and volunteerism hours worked by students, faculty and staff. Such involvement has become part of the ISU culture, according to its leader. “There is an expectation that if you are a Sycamore, you will be involved in community service,” said Daniel Bradley, ISU president.
Last school year, ISU students, faculty and staff donated an estimated 1.2 million hours of community service (valued at $8 million), helping 115 local groups and charities, such as Ryves Youth Center, St. Ann Clinic, Bethany House and Catholic Charities.
Those Sycamores set an example for us all. Their passion for the community also raises hope for a different kind of improved retention — keeping those students in Terre Haute after they graduate. Terre Haute needs more degree-holders to live, work and raise families here, as evidenced by decreasing K-12 enrollment in Vigo County schools. The college students’ skills and vitality help attract new employers. Their track record of volunteering leads many to continue that path as coaches, scout leaders, active church members, youth mentors, Habitat for Humanity builders, and service organization officers.
A vibrant ISU means a vibrant Terre Haute.