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Friday, January 7th, 2011 - 1:30 pm

Raising the bar

Focusing on degree attainment and better prepared students, Purdue Calumet is realizing its niche as a regional university committed to student success and outcomes

By ERIKA ROSE
Erika Rose is a freelance writer, Purdue University Calumet alumna and frequent contributor to Purdue Calumet INSIGHT

When a child matures into the successful, young individual parents aspire to raise, they stand proud. They marvel at the achievements they once could scarcely imagine and anticipate the triumphs that lie ahead. They reflect on the achievement-filled journey of their child and the role they played; then they consider how they can continue to support their child’s vision for the future.

Administrators have much the same feelings about the institution into which Purdue University Calumet is developing.

Proud parents eagerly anticipate their graduate crossing the Commencement stage, diploma in hand, ready to begin a new, bright future. Similarly, Purdue Calumet administrators and faculty eagerly anticipate the fruits of a university plan underway to raise the bar of excellence and enable Purdue Calumet to realize its vision of becoming  Northwest Indiana’s high-quality, full-service regional university.

A philosophical shift

Purdue Calumet graduates of decades past remember a greater focus on enrollment numbers. The higher they were the better. Even if students were short on high school requirements, Purdue Calumet was happy to provide needed instruction to shore up deficiencies. Historically, the university’s mission has been to serve the higher educational needs of Northwest Indiana, and that included taking a chance that the underprepared would get up to speed.

In recent years, however, in response to growing state and national outcomes-based directives for colleges and universities, Purdue Calumet began to shape a new philosophy geared to graduating more students. That called for Purdue Calumet to fully embrace its role as a regional university and commit to new strategies designed to produce more workforce-ready graduates.

Transitioning to baccalaureate and graduate education

Intent on better providing for the higher educational needs of state residents while further developing the role of Indiana’s four-year, regional universities, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education advanced an agreement in 2001. The agreement called for Purdue Calumet and other four-year, regional universities to emphasize baccalaureate and graduate programs, with the two-year, Ivy Tech Community College system focusing on associate degree programs and remedial education.

“It was really a role change for us, because as a regional campus, we did a little of everything,” Purdue Calumet Executive Director of Admissions and Recruitment Paul McGuinness said. “Because there was no community college system in Indiana at the time, the regional campuses served some of that role, while at the same time granting baccalaureate and master’s degrees.”

Immense challenges

Such a role change could not happen overnight, administrators realized. Immense challenges stood between the Purdue Calumet of previous years and the one the state envisioned for 2011 and beyond. The pressure was on to build an infrastructure that could support Purdue Calumet’s newly defined niche.

The state also required that starting in 2011, high school students who had not completed “Core 40” college preparatory courses would not qualify for admission to a four-year, state university.

McGuinness articulated the challenge Purdue Calumet faced this way: “How do we make ourselves accessible and still serve the residents of Indiana? And how do we do it incrementally, so that it’s not a sudden shock to our high school partners, our transfer partners across the state and our own university financial system? You make a jump like that, and it could send shock waves throughout the institution.”

With Purdue Calumet and other regional universities charged with producing more baccalaureate and master’s degree graduates, another priority surfaced: that of attracting students who are better prepared academically to persist to baccalaureate degree attainment. Also needed would be enrollment management strategies for retaining those students once they enrolled.

One strategy employed was that of increasing minimum admission standards—gradually— while assuring that the under-prepared population was accommodated.

Paul McGuinness recruiting a student
For McGuinness (second from right), increasing the number of graduates starts with recruiting students who are prepared and motivated to succeed.

The finer details of making it happen

Over the past five years, the minimum standards for admission to Purdue Calumet have ratcheted up incrementally. The standards vary based on specific program of study within Purdue Calumet’s six degree-granting schools.

Applicants who do not meet Purdue Calumet admission standards are directed to an Ivy Tech transitional program, with which Purdue Calumet has partnered since 2006, for remediation.

Working with a community college to provide the instruction those students need is critical to building a foundation for future success at Purdue Calumet, according to McGuinness.

“We don’t want to set up students for failure,” he said.

As part of this strategy, Purdue Calumet resources previously devoted to helping under-prepared students are being redirected to retention efforts and helping higher achievers in more rigorous studies, a major focus of Carol Cortilet-Albrecht, appointed last summer as associate vice chancellor of enrollment management.

Previously, when increasing enrollment numbers was a driving priority at Purdue Calumet, entering underprepared students stood little chance of success in earning a four-year degree, according to Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Ralph Rogers. What’s more, there was little return on the substantial resources invested in students who dropped out.

“We still had to provide a lot of services and direct a lot of resources to servicing those students in their first year,” he said. “What that did is detract from our ability to service persisting students. If we can provide students with the support system they need to persist, a higher percentage of students will persist to graduation.”

This, Rogers says, translates into various benefits, such as increasing the number of students in upper division classes, where empty seats are readily available typically. These classes also offer a community of energetic learners, enabling faculty to move more swiftly through course material.

Cortilet-Albrecht oversees the many newly created efforts aimed at keeping students on track to graduation. Purdue Calumet also is implementing a first-year experience program, designed to strengthen the connection between students and the university. The idea of the program is to advance student success through greater preparedness and early awareness when difficulties surface.

Jorge Campos (left) and Casey Keller
Freshmen Jorge Campos of Hammond and Casey Keller of Valparaiso engage in collaborative learning, part of the new first-year experience program designed to further academic success.

“We are preparing our own community,” Cortilet-Albrecht says, “and that means working together internally, as well as with high schools and Ivy Tech. We want students to be successful and have careers, and they can’t do that unless they are graduating.”

The early returns on the Purdue Calumet-Ivy Tech partnership have been positive, Cortilet-Albrecht says.

“With Ivy Tech now focusing on associate degrees and Purdue Calumet on baccalaureate and master’s degrees, the scope of education we can provide is much more intense,” she said.

Success breeds more success

Key to retaining and, ultimately, graduating more students is attracting students who are better prepared for college level work. To that notion, Purdue Calumet introduced an Honors Program in 2006.

High school students admitted to Purdue Calumet with an SAT combined math and critical reading score of at least 1100 and grade point average of at least 3.5 (4.0 scale) may apply to the program, but acceptance also will be based on completion of an essay, extracurricular achievements and letters of recommendations. Directed by Professor of Engineering Bipin Pai, the Honors Program has grown steadily and awards scholarships to qualifying students who maintain program standards.

As another incentive for top students, high school valedictorians and salutatorians who also have recorded at least an 1100 SAT math and critical reading score qualify for a full tuition scholarship renewable for four years subject to academic standards. The Chancellor’s Scholarship also covers half the cost of living in Purdue Calumet’s campus housing complex, The University Village.

Other successful high school graduates with a 3.0 or better GPA qualify for a renewable Academic Achievement Scholarship. Similarly successful community college graduates rate a Transfer Scholarship. Both scholarships are valued at $2,000 (Indiana residents) and $4,000 (non-Indiana residents) a year.

Mark Bauman
An expanded sports program provides opportunities to attract talented student-athletes like Mark Bauman.

An opportunity to attract top students also factored into Purdue Calumet’s decision to expand its intercollegiate athletic program recently. Purdue Calumet’s former two-sport program (men’s and women’s basketball) increased to six sports during the current academic year with the debut of men’s and women’s tennis, women’s volleyball and men’s golf squads. Men’s and women’s cross country teams will join the fold next fall. Teams in men’s and women’s soccer will be introduced in 2012-13, followed by men’s baseball and women’s softball (2013-14).

As Rogers noted, there is a group of students who want to continue playing their sport while they pursue their education. They tend to be good athletes, and they tend to be good students. Those students make up a population that previously did not consider Purdue Calumet.

Partnering with high schools

Another strategy for helping prepare students for college success is that of enabling them to jump start their college experience while still in high school.

With Purdue Calumet partnering in a pilot program with Crown Point High School, qualified high school students can enroll in dual credit courses that provide high school and university credit. As professional development for high school teachers who teach the courses at their schools increases, dual credit opportunities are expected to spread to other regional high schools.

“If you are doing college coursework as a high school student, you are getting a lot of college prerequisites out of the way,” McGuinness says, “which means when you get to college, you are ahead of the game.”


Just a commuter campus? Hardly!

“Ten years ago, I think people in Northwest Indiana described us as a commuter university, sometimes as a community college,” Purdue Calumet Chancellor Howard Cohen said. “They intended that, I think, to mean that we were comfortable, convenient and safe. Students who came here were focused on getting their degree, but not really having the campus experience. I think we are now transitioning into becoming the type of university that people think of as providing a full campus experience.”

Cohen cites a campus moving toward a rich academic and social environment in recent years, as more students remain on campus for study groups, socializing, sports contests and other events.

More importantly, Purdue Calumet is attracting students from well beyond its regional roots.

Chancellor Scholars and a growing international population are testimony to that. “Before we had substantial numbers of these highly motivated students, people might have felt Purdue Calumet was the safe college of last resort,” Cohen said. “But when you have high achieving students with those kinds of options choosing Purdue Calumet, I think you can pretty comfortably say, ‘No, that’s not what we are. We are a place people choose to go for the quality of education.’ ”

Emily Mastej
A full tuition, Chancellor’s Scholarship has opened a door of opportunities for high school salutatorian Mastej.

Emily Mastej is one of those students who once viewed Purdue Calumet as a last resort school. A Highland resident, she admits she fell into the category of being “brain washed,” into thinking her local university was somehow less of a school, not recognizing that a regional university could also be high quality.

As salutatorian of Highland High School’s class of 2010, Mastej entertained numerous options where to continue her education. A full tuition, Chancellor’s Scholarship to Purdue Calumet prompted her to take a closer look at Purdue Calumet, and she’s glad she did.

“I realized my opportunities will actually be bigger if I went here,” she said. “She cites upcoming study abroad opportunities to Costa Rica and Spain as examples, as well as a close relationship with professors that her residential campus friends do not have.


The proof is in the numbers

Five years ago, the idea of deferring 765 applicants who did not satisfy Purdue Calumet admission requirements to Ivy Tech, while growing the applicant pool by 75 percent over the same time period seemed unthinkable. But that’s exactly what happened last fall. Five years ago, a mere handful of students were denied admission. Even with the denials, total fall enrollment last fall was a respectable 9,807.

“The university is doing the right thing both for the students we do admit and for the students we do not,” Cohen says. “For the students we do admit, it means the level of preparedness in their classes is more uniform, so students can proceed through material more effectively. For the students who are not prepared, we are not bringing them in to fail.”

This, he says, is showing up in improved retention numbers. For entering fall 2009 cohorts, the first-year, fall-to-fall retention rate was 69.1 percent, up from 62.7 percent two years earlier.

The proof is in academic quality, too

Rogers says a more prepared population of students translates into an infectious amount of energy and focus among communities of learners.

“What we see as students become more energized and begin to push the instructor is that the class takes on a different vitality,” Rogers says. “In my experience, different groups of students have a chemistry. When you get a certain mix of students, they are so good, the class moves so quickly, and everyone is invigorated.”

Rogers adds that “our best undergraduate students are as good as any in the country,” with a fair share having matriculated to such top graduate schools as Harvard, Duke and Northwestern, among others.

“How far students really go from the time they enter to the time they leave as far as their maturity and what they learn, I think that is probably the untold story of this university,” Rogers says.


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