Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read September 2021 — In an interview with Invest:, Michael Driscoll, president of Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), explained what separates IUP from other universities and the steps it is taking to plan for the future of education. He discussed sustainability, giving back to the region and keeping up with the rapid change in response to COVID-19.
What differentiates IUP from some of the other institutions in the Greater Pittsburgh region?
We started as a teacher’s institution in 1875, providing teachers with training. We continue to do that, and do it well, but we are also a doctoral research university. This means that we are serving students at all stages of their lives and careers and producing faculty members to teach students elsewhere. It really is focused on growing students as they come in.
Our varied campuses meet the region’s needs but do so by meeting them one student at a time. One is our new doctorate in business, targeted at folks who have had a life before college and still want the degree. It’s part-time and flexible. The program is designed for someone who is already working, but who wants to make a change in their career, or advance themselves in their already established field, and to make an even greater professional impact. We’ve added new programs in environmental engineering, building on the strengths of our safety sciences program – we are one of the few universities in the nation to offer degrees at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels in this major — and our strong computer science programs. We were one of the first universities in the country to be recognized with an excellence award in cybersecurity education.
The largest percentage of our students are local to this region and want to remain in this area to build their careers and families after they graduate. This is critical for this region, to have young professionals who want to reinvest their lives into the region. This is a key feature that separates us from other universities.
But we also draw a geographically diverse student population; our students come from almost every state in the nation. While our international student population has been challenged by the pandemic, we still have 400 to 500 international students here annually, which demonstrates that we’re also bringing in people from around the world to study here at all levels.
Where does IUP stand in regard to its financial health?
All of us in the higher education sector in Pennsylvania are challenged in a number of ways. The level of state support for public higher education in Pennsylvania is among the lowest in the country. The population of 18-year-olds coming out of high school and into the traditional college market is declining almost everywhere in the state except for eastern Pennsylvania. Are the financial circumstances as good as they were 10 years ago? No, but we are doing what we need to do to stay positive and make sure that we keep prices reasonable for students to move ahead.
We’re in better shape now than we were two years ago by focusing on the programs that are most important for students in terms of what they want, as well as what is key for us as we work with business leaders, the department of labor and so on. We’re going to be here because we’re making sure that we are on top of the issues we’re facing and by focusing on what our students and the region needs, today and tomorrow.
What is your plan for creating a more sustainable campus?
Between 2004 and 2010, we partnered with the Foundation for IUP on a project called Residential Revival to rebuild old dormitory buildings and make them LEED-certified. The $245 million project to replace residence halls with suite-style buildings that include living-learning communities was honored by the Green Building Alliance as one of 25 projects that have significantly advanced the region’s green building movement.
We’re about to complete a new, state-of-the-art science building thanks to the donation of alumni Dr. John and Char Kopchick. Science is a key to our future. The $90 million building, which will be home to the John J. and Char Kopchick College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, includes more than 51,600 square feet of laboratory space.
What is your general outlook, not only for IUP but for the higher education sector as a whole in southwestern Pennsylvania?
Higher education across the country is in a period of remarkable change. Change is hard but change also is inevitable in multiple senses. People are still going to need to talk to each other and do business, now and in the future, and 18-year-olds are still going to need the opportunity to grow into the leaders they need to be — just maybe faster and more effectively. That is absolutely IUP’s niche, to help students to embrace their potential in all possible ways – sometimes in ways that they never could have imagined.
Our challenge is to find a balance with limited state support and refine our business model so that students are getting those kinds of leadership development experiences inside and outside the classroom. We’ve been doing that here for almost 150 years. One of our success points is that we’ve worked very deliberately to make necessary changes to how we do that and how we support our mission. While change has been challenging, we continue to embrace it, for the benefit of our students.
We are committed to truly knowing students on an individual level, and then determining and providing what they need, when they need it, always with a personal touch augmented by technology. We’re working to provide the right educational and developmental experiences for all of our students – for those who come from farms throughout rural Pennsylvania or other states, and for those students who come from downtown Philadelphia. While many of their needs are similar, we want to tailor their experiences in order to help them learn and succeed in all possible ways, including socially.
Our new university strategic plan talks about three things: one, being student-centered; two, making sure we are the diverse, inclusive and equitable learning environment we need to be so our students from all over the world are prepared for all types of work settings; and three, taking that doctoral research component of what we do and making sure all of our students are exposed to that open-ended approach to problem-solving, including at the undergraduate level.
I have to mention our fundraising campaign, Imagine Unlimited. The success of this campaign clearly demonstrates that our alumni received a life-changing experience from IUP, and they want to not only give back, but to pay it forward.
We started the campaign with a goal to raise $40 million, and by the time we finished at the end of 2020, we hit $81.3 million and finished six months ahead of its end date. Imagine Unlimited exceeded all previous university fundraising campaigns by more than $35 million and included the university’s largest one-time gifts in its history: $23 million from alumni Dr. John and Char Kopchick and a $7 million gift from alumni Tim and Deb Cejka.
In short, we know that there are many, many people who care about IUP, and so many promising young students who desperately need what we do. The mission is very straightforward: making sure that every student is engaged and can be successful at every point in their journey—from first visit to IUP to years after graduation. We just need to figure out how to make the details work with these new generations of students.