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Chamber: State universities need to be more efficient

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Indiana’s public universities vary widely in how much money they spend to educate and graduate students—and none are performing at the top of their peer groups in efficiency, according to a new study commissioned by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

The report, released Thursday morning, doesn’t declare any winners or losers in the relatively new world of measuring higher education institutions on productivity and parsimony. But Chamber leaders called for all Indiana schools to do better.

"That is tough medicine for some in the education community to accept. But just as those in the private sector have been forced to do more with less, just to survive, so must our public institutions,” Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar said in a statement.

The report was funded by the Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation for Education and conducted by the Colorado-based National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. Full results from the study can be read at achieveindiana.org.

The study compares how much in state, local, tuition and fee revenue each school receives per student and per graduate. It then compares each school’s “cost per degree” against a group of peer institutions selected by the school and the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

By that measure, two state-funded universities have costs that are less than 90 percent of their peer groups: Ivy Tech Community College, as a whole, and Purdue University at each of its four campuses statewide.

Only one school has costs that are greater than 110 percent of its peers: Indiana State University in Terre Haute.

Among other schools, Ball State University’s costs are slightly higher than its peers, Indiana University-Bloomington’s are slightly lower than its peers, and IUPUI’s are equal to its peers.

The study also tries to examine each school’s funding compared with the “value” of the degrees they are producing, which is determined by weighting each schools’ degrees by the average salaries currently earned by Indiana residents with those same degrees.

The report concludes that the biggest economic gains to be had are by improving productivity at Indiana’s institutions that grant two-year degrees and professional certificates, such as Ivy Tech and Vincennes University. Indiana is currently a net importer of workers with such credentials, the report noted, while it is a net exporter of four-year bachelor’s degree holders.

The focus on university productivity has received significant attention in recent years from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. In December, the commission drew national attention for using measures of productivity as a key factor in apportioning budget cuts for universities. Some schools received smaller percentage cuts and some received larger cuts, based on how much money they were spending per student and per graduate.

“Our college and university leaders increasingly recognize that Indiana’s economic realities and work-force needs require new ways of thinking about how we measure performance and progress in higher education,” said Teresa Lubbers, Indiana’s commissioner for higher education, in a statement.

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