Dear Friend of Indiana University:

Over the course of nearly 200 years, Indiana University has grown and evolved from its modest beginnings as a state seminary whose first class consisted of 10 students–all men–to one of the largest universities in the world, serving nearly 115,000 students from 139 countries and boasting more than 650,000 living alumni around the globe.

Our aspirations also have grown just as substantially during that time and today the university strives to be nothing less than one of the premier public universities in the world, one that provides a world-class, globally focused education and carries out research to address the biggest challenges facing the world today.

At the same time, we have never lost sight of the fact that, at its core, Indiana University is first and foremost a Hoosier institution dedicated to educating, employing and enriching the lives of Indiana residents. We are acutely aware of the importance of IU to the state of Indiana and the high expectations the residents and leaders of the state place on IU to fulfill its mission.

That sense of responsibility–and the heart-warming feelings of affection–directed toward IU by our fellow Hoosiers are never made more clear to me than when I am traveling across the state, as I have had the good fortune to do on a number of occasions in recent months. In fact, I just returned from a daylong trip to Richmond last week where I spent time with some of our outstanding students at IU East, met with the campus’ Board of Advisors and had the honor of speaking at a dinner hosted by the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce.

This was my third such “day trip” across the state in the last three months, with earlier stops in Evansville, where I helped dedicate the groundbreaking of our new medical education center that promises to transform the city’s downtown, and in Gary, where I met with business leaders and students at IU Northwest.

By the end of the academic year, I also plan to make similar visits to other communities where IU has campuses to hear first-hand about our successes–and challenges–in these communities and how IU can be an even better partner across the state.

Regional campuses play a vital role in IU’s success

Much of the attention IU receives, whether in the media or from other groups, centers around the work done on our Bloomington and Indianapolis campuses. While that attention is certainly well deserved, IU’s regional campuses also are of vital importance to the university’s success and to that of the state of Indiana. These campuses have, over the course of the last four decades, made invaluable contributions to their regions and to the state of Indiana.

Today more than 36,000 students are working toward IU degrees on six regional campuses across the state. In almost all cases, these campuses also are among the largest employers in their home regions and truly have become part of the fabric of their communities and an integral part of Indiana University’s identity.

They provide an education that is innovative, flexible, relevant and accessible to a wide range of qualified learners. That impact shows up in a variety of ways, depending on the campus and the community, though it is significant no matter what form it takes.

For example, IU East is a leader in online education, while IU Northwest in Gary produces a steady stream of well-prepared medical and nursing school graduates who play a vitally important role in providing much-needed health-care resources in the region. In Kokomo (which I plan to visit this spring), IU Kokomo has become a valued education partner for Chrysler as it seeks more innovative ways to provide enhanced educational opportunities for its employees.

Additionally, the university is investing heavily in new and renovated facilities across its regional campuses. Not only do these projects directly benefit our students, but they often also become valuable community resources.

For example, construction is well underway for a new student events center at IU East that will be home to a wide variety of academic, entertainment and athletic events when it opens this fall. At IU Northwest, we remain on schedule to open a new arts and sciences building in the fall of 2017 that will house both IU and Ivy Tech programs.

Renovation of the Main Building on the Kokomo campus was completed in December, while both IU Southeast and IU South Bend have projects in the planning stages that will upgrade existing facilities and systems.

These are just a few of the ways, IU’s regional campuses are striving to serve their students, as well as employers and communities in their home regions, and it is entirely consistent with Indiana University’s core missions to provide the best possible education for the sons and daughters of Indiana and to create an environment in which the university’s faculty can conduct research of the highest quality that contributes to state and national prosperity.

IU’s role as an engine for economic development 

As a public university, Indiana University also makes enormous contributions to the economic development and vitality of our state. Our research is leading to major scientific breakthroughs, as well as new inventions, private investment, and new high-wage jobs. In fact, IU was just ranked by Reuters as one of the 50 most innovative universities in the world.

We have seen impressive growth in collaboration across the state as well as tech transfer activities with hundreds of patent applications, invention disclosures, and intellectual property licenses. Last year, IU had 183 U.S. and global patents issued—more than any other year in IU history and more than any other research institution in the state received last year. In addition, start-up companies based on IU-licensed technologies attracted nearly $100 million in outside venture funding last year.

Innovate Indiana—IU’s economic development initiative—is helping to enhance all of these efforts. Under the leadership of Vice President for Engagement Bill Stephan, Innovate Indiana consolidates and coordinates all of the university’s economic development activities, providing a single point of contact for our partners. It invigorates our efforts to turn the innovations of our faculty into new products, services, and treatments.

Vice President Stephan and other IU leaders also regularly canvas the state to explore ways IU can assist in economic development. They continue to work to bring educational policy to bear on the state’s aspirations by strengthening partnerships with leading companies and industry groups, enhancing K-12 initiatives, and by working collaboratively with other higher education institutions in the state, just to name a few of the ways IU is engaged in efforts to enhance the state’s fortunes.

An increasing body of recent research reinforces what those of us in higher education have long held as a fundamental truth: Education and innovation are central elements to the success of a given region.

These elements are especially important as Indiana continues its transformation to a knowledge-based economy, even within its robust manufacturing sector, which increasingly has become home to some of the most technologically advanced companies in the world.

Indeed, a report by the Strengthening America’s Communities Advisory Committee for the U.S. Department of Commerce provided strong justification for focusing much greater attention on our transformation to a knowledge-based innovation economy and aligning public policy and investments accordingly. The report said, in part:

“With increasing competition from across the globe, U.S. industries can no longer rely on low-cost labor, access to raw materials, and low value-added products and services to drive success. In an innovation-based economy, skilled human capital has become the most important form of capital. The quote concludes: “…In the 21st century, America’s communities will derive economic strength by acting regionally to compete globally. Innovation and entrepreneurship are the new engines for job creation, productivity, growth, economic prosperity, and healthy communities.”

Across IU, including in our regional campuses, we are enrolling record numbers of students and producing record numbers of graduates—20,000 last year alone. These are knowledgeable and skilled people who will continue in increasing numbers to apply their knowledge and creativity to drive the engine of successful innovation throughout Indiana and across the country.

Given the fact that as many as 80 percent of our regional campus graduates remain in their home regions after they complete their education, it is easy to see the special—and vitally important—role that IU plays in building the knowledge economies in regions around the state.

In disciplines as disparate as health-related fields, information technology, business, mathematics and more IU is producing graduates who can help enhance the state’s overall economic strength. Moreover, through the highly focused work of our regional campuses, IU is committed to doing even more in the future to produce graduates with degrees that are relevant to the needs of the specific regions of Indiana.

This commitment is part of Indiana University’s enduring legacy of service and support to our home state, and something in which we take enormous pride.

Likewise, I could not be more proud of the faculty and staff that work so hard every day to make our regional campuses centers for education and engines for economic growth across the state.

As always, thanks to all of you who continue to be so extremely supportive of IU’s mission and work.

With best wishes,

Michael A. McRobbie