Dear Friend of Indiana University,

Last month I had the privilege of delivering the fifth State of the University address of my presidency. The address came at an exciting time for all of us because of the unprecedented changes we are making, and which we are continuing to make, to secure Indiana University’s place among the leading public universities in the world in the 21st century.  

Many of these transformative steps, such as the creation of our new School of Global and International Studies; the Fairbanks School of Public Health in Indianapolis and the School of Public Health at IU Bloomington; the launch of our major new online initiative, IU Online; and state approval for our new School of Philanthropy, were the subjects of my most recent update to you.  
In fact, over the past 18 months we have created, merged, transformed or closed seven schools, which is the most significant academic transformation at IU since the time of President William Lowe Bryan.  This is an unmistakable sign that we are not content to rest on our past success, and that have a clear vision for the 21st century. That alone is worth celebrating and sharing with those who care most about our university.

Our work to transform Indiana University is being carried out in one of the most challenging environments in the history of higher education.  Public skepticism over the cost and value of a college education has become a dominant public policy issue among a diverse array of critics. Indeed, a few business leaders have gone so far as to actively provide incentives for young adults to not attend college as part of a newfound “anti-college movement.”

As misguided and short-sighted as I believe such extreme views to be, the larger concerns over cost, value and quality are valid and must be addressed head-on by the higher education community. We must reaffirm the core values of higher education and make the necessary changes needed to buttress the public’s confidence in our work.

At Indiana University, we continue to embrace the enduring value of a rigorous college education while at the same time recognizing the strains of validity in many of these criticisms. Indeed, we share many of the concerns with our critics—and have been asking sincere, deep questions about our underlying organizational and academic assumptions.

In short, we understand that issues such as cost, student debt, time-to-degree and the ability to find a good job in one’s chosen career matter deeply to our students and their families, and we are committed to ensuring the best possible student experience along these dimensions as well as with our classroom offerings.

With such concerns in mind, I was extremely pleased to be able to announce a number of initiatives in my State of the University address that take direct aim at lowering the cost of an IU education, encourage more students to graduate on time and that will help our students graduate with degrees that will lead to career success.

Perhaps most exciting is our new on-time graduation award program. Under this program students who reach the end of their sophomore year in good academic standing and who are on-track to graduate in four years, will receive financial awards during their final two years that will offset any increase in tuition or university-imposed fees they would otherwise be required to pay.

This program, which will run as a pilot initially and then be assessed for its impact, starts in the fall of 2013 and will be available to undergraduate students across all seven IU campuses in the state. This award makes two things clear:  that Indiana University is serious about holding down the cost of an IU degree, and that we are equally serious about providing significant incentives for our students to stay on course for completing their degrees on time.

The on-time completion award has been warmly received by a wide range of our stakeholders, including legislators and educational policy makers, and is consistent with other recent efforts such as our summer tuition discount program launched this year to address both cost and time-to-degree.

This program should not be viewed as an action being taken in lieu of holding a tight line on future tuition rates. Indeed, we understand that the public won’t bear large tuition increases in the current economic environment. The university administration currently is examining all options available to us that will allow me to forward a tuition recommendation to the Board of Trustees that calls for the lowest possible increase when that decision is made by the board early next year.

At the same time we are lowering the costs to many of our students, we are also increasing our level of support in many key areas. For example, I have recommended to the faculty that we create a new, substantive class on financial literacy that would be taught as an online course by our world renowned Kelley School of Business and available for credit, tuition-free, for all IU students.

In addition, I have asked all of our campuses take a fresh look at our student academic and career advising programs with a goal of developing bold, new and innovative approaches and initiatives that are responsive to student needs and committed to establishing a roadmap for all students to attain their degrees on time and to pursue satisfying careers. There should be a comprehensive approach to student advising that starts with student orientation and follows each student through degree attainment.

This proactive approach to student advising should not only have benchmarks of success along the way to getting a degree, but should also identify—at the earliest possible stages—students who are falling behind in their academic career or who need additional career counseling. In such cases, our advising programs should have intervention plans for these students to determine the source of the problem and lay out a corrective path.

As you can see, the work of transforming this great university into an institution that reflects the needs of 21st century students, employers and society is a continuous process and one that we are tackling with great vigor on all fronts. Of course, we couldn’t do it without the continued support of our alumni and friends, for which we are grateful each day.

Thanks once again for everything you do to keep Indiana University strong.

Yours sincerely,

Michael A. McRobbie

P.S. — A complete transcript of my State of the University address, as well as full video and highlights, can be found in speeches.