Bennett lobbies for budget

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University President Linda Bennett went before the Indiana House Ways and Means Committee last Wednesday to request 44.7 million for the 2017-2019 Operating and Capital Improvement Budget.

The budget request for the biennium centers on renovation for the Physical Activities Center (PAC). The $41 million requested is phase II of classroom expansion and renovation.

The $3.7 million for the standard operating and repair line item requests of the budget includes continued operation of Historic New Harmony, campus security enhancements, expansion of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs and dual credit opportunities.

Any new state monies for the 2017-2019 budget are calculated through performance funding formulas, which includes metrics like the number of graduates, on-time graduation rates and student persistence from year to year.

The university is not eligible for one formula on high impact degrees connected to STEM initiatives, because it is not a research institution.

Research institutions are chosen by the Carnegie classification, which decides if the institution is research or masters.

“The problem is those of us who are performing these functions and doing very well at it, it seems not quite right that we wouldn’t get something under a STEM initiative,” Bennett said.

Bennett said she believes that the university does have high impact degrees, citing a statistic that states 90 percent of engineering graduates are working in the state of Indiana. She said that it takes millions of dollars in grants to be classified under a research institution.

“It takes resources to get the resources,” she said.

The budget also includes just under $500,000 in funding for Historic New Harmony. Under the stewardship of the university since 1985, Bennett is seeking a 9-percent increase in funding for the biennium.

“That role includes a number of very historic buildings and making certain that we do all we can to maintain those buildings,” she said.

The university also plans to add a substation of the Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s office as part of the campus security enhancements. Adding the substation will give the university a sworn force on campus, meaning they would have weapons.

“We’re like a small town here and safety is an important part about what we think about for this community,” Bennett said.

One of the performance funding formulas calculates funding based on four-year graduation rates.

`“I would love to see a goal of everyone of our graduates coming out having done some kind of internship, study abroad, co-op, research experience,” Bennett said. “I think that’s so important. Sometimes that takes a little bit longer and that’s ok.”

Bennett said more and more students are coming in with college credit out of high school and that will give them some breathing room to finish in four years.

Bennett said she thought the hearing was “convivial” and legislators were attentive and asked good questions. She said she hears from legislators that they want to do more for the university.

“When you are the youngest institution and you’ve grown very quickly, it’s very hard for a legislature to keep up with you and that has been our reality,” she said. “The budget process is a very long conversation. You talk a little while, then they talk a little while, then you talk a little while, and then they get the final vote.”

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