Dear Friend of Indiana University:

A year ago in a President’s Update message, I wrote at some length about the launch of a very ambitious university-wide planning initiative designed to guide our efforts over the next five years leading up to Indiana University’s bicentennial during the 2019-2020 academic year.

A year later, the Bicentennial Strategic Plan for Indiana University is firmly in place and I am extremely pleased to share with you some of the enormous early progress we are making toward reaching the goals outlined in this visionary blueprint for continued excellence. In fact, I devoted a large majority of my annual State of the University address last week to highlighting some of the outstanding efforts by our faculty and staff to achieve the goals in the plan.

The bicentennial strategic plan, formally adopted by the IU Board of Trustees in December 2014, comprises eight priorities aimed at serving the university’s fundamental mission of educating students, pursuing transformative research and scholarship, and making the best possible use of our collective resources and talents in serving the needs of the state of Indiana and beyond.

As I noted in my address, the similarity of what we are striving to achieve as we approach our bicentennial, to the era of progress made under President William Lowe Bryan almost exactly a century ago, is unmistakable. As IU approached its centennial, President Bryan was presiding over the largest period of growth and change in the university’s history. Indeed, under his leadership IU grew from a small, liberal arts college that consisted of two schools to a university of 11 schools, including many of the schools that provide the backbone of vital fields in health and medical sciences, where IU continues to educate and train the vast majority of professionals in Indiana.

These centennial initiatives transformed IU into one of the leading research institutions of the 20th century, and it is fitting that today, as the university is on the cusp of beginning its third century of service, we have embarked on a period of change unlike any seen in the past 100 years.

In the past three years alone, IU has added or reconfigured eight new schools on the Bloomington and Indianapolis campuses, in addition to establishing a long-overdue department of engineering in Bloomington. This diverse array of new schools and programs all share a common impetus: to provide our students with the most relevant educational opportunities possible so that they are positioned for success in today’s global marketplace upon their graduation.

This academic transformation falls squarely under the first of our bicentennial priorities: A commitment to student success and providing the best possible academic and professional options to students. So, too, does the remarkable work we have done in recent years to keep a world-class IU education affordable. Over the past three years, we have instituted a number of creative programs across all of our campuses aimed at controlling students costs while also promoting on-time degree completion, which we know is the single best way to reduce student debt.

Those efforts allowed us to freeze tuition for thousands of students who were on track to graduate in four years. And now, thanks to additional support from the Indiana General Assembly for which we are grateful, we were able to extend the tuition freeze to all Indiana resident students at our Bloomington campus for the next two years, while holding increases to other students across the state to historically low levels.

All of this, and the generosity of our donors who contributed greatly to student financial aid through scholarships and fellowships, has kept the average net cost of attendance at IU Bloomington the lowest among the 13 public universities in the Big Ten.

Of course, all of us at IU share the widespread concern about the dramatic rise in student debt nationwide. In response, we have created a comprehensive financial literacy program, which has received national acclaim and, more importantly, is making a real difference in the financial lives of our students.

The centerpiece of our work is a simple, yet effective tool to educate students on the implications of borrowing in an effort to help them make more informed financial decisions. The student debt letter, which we began sending to student borrowers in fall 2013, details a student’s level of college-related borrowing and provides an estimated payout upon graduation.

Armed with this information, our students have become more judicious in their borrowing, and we have seen a remarkable 16 percent drop in student loans—equaling nearly $83 million—in the last three years. I also am proud of the fact that, as a result of our success in this area, all public universities in Indiana are now required to provide similar letters to their students under a new state law that took effect July 1.

Catalyzing Research

Our bicentennial strategic plan also places an emphasis on further strengthening IU’s role as the largest research institution in Indiana and one of the leading research universities in the country. In fact, IU researchers received $541 million in external funding commitments in fiscal year 2015, the second-highest annual total in the university’s history.

This figure confirms that IU faculty researchers are at the forefront of one of the most competitive environments for research funding that we have ever experienced in higher education. Indeed, IU has a special opportunity—and responsibility—to drive large-scale research, discovery and innovation to help address some of the most pressing challenges facing our state, nation and world today.

Toward that end, we announced last month that the university has launched the most ambitious research program in its history. Over the next five years, we will invest at least $300 million in the Grand Challenges research program to develop transformative solutions for some of the planet’s most pressing problems.

These projects will address challenges that are too big to ignore—such as global water supplies; the availability of energy; infectious diseases; harnessing the power of, and protecting, big data; and climate change—by catalyzing collaborative and interdisciplinary research, as well as new partnerships with community organizations, industry and government. The goal of this program is to fund a small number of large, high-impact research projects in a very substantial fashion in order to “move the needle” on these challenges.

Fred Cate, distinguished professor and C. Ben Dutton Professor of Law, who was named vice president for research in August, has been charged with leading this effort, which is already drawing enthusiastic interest from faculty across the university. Preliminary proposals are due in early November, and the first research awards will be announced next June, with funding to commence at the beginning of the next academic year.

Not only does the Grand Challenges program have the potential to make a lasting positive impact on the lives of Hoosiers and people around the world, it also stands to strengthen IU’s standing as en elite research institution. It is our expectation that these initiatives will attract some of the best minds from around the world to IU, bolstering our already impressive faculty by as many as 150 new scholars and researchers over the next five years.

The Indiana University bicentennial campaign

Undergirding our work to keep IU strong well into the future is the enormous philanthropic support we receive from a multitude of sources. Without the generosity of our large alumni base, outside funding organizations and other donors the university’s collective success would not be possible.

Two weeks ago, the university launched the public phase of a fundraising campaign that will ensure that IU’s transformative impact on the state, the nation and the world continues into our third century and for generations to come.

For All: The Indiana University Bicentennial Campaign is the first-ever philanthropic campaign involving all IU campuses, and it has set a goal of $2.5 billion to be raised by 2020. This is the most ambitious fundraising goal ever in IU’s history and one of the largest ever by a public university. To date, the campaign has raised nearly $1.2 billion with the participation of more than 200,000 donors.

The For All campaign will support four broad university priorities that reflect the central goals of bicentennial strategic plan: enabling student success and support; creating the next generation of global leaders; recruiting and retaining the best and most creative faculty who will lead the discoveries and innovations that transform how we live; and creating a healthier state, nation and world.

As part of the campaign, the university is seeking gifts to endow at least 1,200 new undergraduate scholarships on all our campuses and at least 400 study and service abroad scholarships especially for low income and minority students in order to provide vital opportunities for students entering today’s global society. We also hope to endow at least 100 new chairs and professorships, and at least 200 new graduate fellowships.

Secretary Kerry visit to highlight SGIS celebration

Another important piece of the bicentennial strategic plan calls for IU to create a truly global university, and nowhere have our efforts in this regard been more visible over the past year than in the construction of the magnificent new academic building on the Bloomington campus to house our School of Global and International Studies.

The building opened to hundreds of students and faculty members at the start of this semester and will officially be dedicated this Wednesday. The following day, the school will have the privilege of hosting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who will deliver a major policy speech and meet with some of our most able international studies students.

The secretary’s visit is emblematic of the lofty vision we have for the School of Global and International Studies, and we are delighted to bring a leader of his stature to campus. Secretary Kerry’s visit is also a credit to the outstanding work of the school’s founding dean Lee Feinstein and others, who have worked tirelessly to secure the secretary’s appearance.

As I told our faculty in my State of the University address last week, the positive change we have affected across the university in recent years is extensive. It is the product of the hard work of thousands of faculty, staff and students across all of our campuses, the wise direction provided by our trustees and the enduring support of hundreds of thousands of loyal alumni around the world.

For nearly two centuries, IU has succeeded in providing countless young adults with wonderful educations, offered an enriching environment for some of the finest academics in the world and served the citizens of Indiana through the extensive and wide-ranging impact it has on the economy of the state.

As we prepare to enter our third century of service guided by our bicentennial strategic plan, I am confident that the best is yet to come for Indiana University.

As always, thank you for your continued support of the university.

Yours sincerely,

Michael A. McRobbie