Building a Brain Trust

August 19th, 2012

News Coverage:
The Journal Gazette

Building a Brain Trust

New Doctoral Level Programs Bolster Assets of Region

Sunday, August 19, 2012, 3:00 am

Karen Francisco | The Journal Gazette

A decade ago, pursuit of most professional-degree programs required study outside northeast Indiana:

Med school? You could spend two years at the IU School of Medicine-Fort Wayne, but third- and fourth-year programs weren’t available. Pharmacy school? Purdue or Butler university was the closest option. Law school? Prospective students had to look to Valparaiso, Bloomington, Indianapolis or Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Mich.

The Community Research Institute at IPFW analyzed 2010 Census and American Community Survey data last year and found Allen County’s adult educational attainment was similar to or better than the state or nation up to the master’s degree level. Beyond master’s-level degree-holders, however, the county had lost ground since 2000.

But the past four years have brought an education transformation to the region. In addition to a growing number of master’s level programs, the IU School of Medicine-Fort Wayne has expanded to include third- and fourth-year programs on the IPFW campus. Sixty-four students just began a four-year doctoral program at Manchester University’s new College of Pharmacy. Indiana Tech has awarded its first doctorates in global leadership studies and drawn more than 900 inquiries into its new law school, set to open next fall. Trine University in Angola is preparing to hire a founding dean for its first doctorate program, in physical therapy, while Huntington University lays the groundwork for a doctoral-level program in occupational therapy.

For a region hampered by per-capita income figures trailing the rest of the nation, the new programs aren’t just a convenience to students. Its growing inventory of professional-degree programs promises a strong economic boost and rich new career opportunities.

“The education consortium is alive and well in getting these opportunities for the region,” said Michael Packnett, president and CEO of Parkview Health. “As we continue to have training and educational opportunities expanding, it gives the students in those programs exposure to the area, and we’re seeing new interest in students wanting to work here.”

Manchester University President Jo Young Switzer, who served on the coordinating committee for Vision 2020, the regional economic development plan, said Packnett was a motivating force as the panel’s co-chairman.

“We really saw all sorts of opportunity for the region to revitalize itself,” she said. “While there are plenty of post-secondary opportunities, we did talk about the lack of doctoral-level programs. All of us – and the group included other college presidents – we all got re-energized to make our institutions stronger so we could attract more bright people to this area.”

Brain drain

Look at the education credentials of most any high-ranking professional in northeast Indiana and you’ll find a degree earned outside the region. Some might have started studies at local schools, but they eventually found it necessary to leave to earn a doctoral-level degree. Opportunity or family considerations drew some back, of course, but there are plenty of young professionals who have left the area to study and ended up working and living elsewhere.

While the experiences students or young professionals have outside of northeast Indiana can be a benefit when they return, there’s no doubt that some have been dissuaded from returning by the lack of advanced-training opportunities.

The first pharmacy class at Manchester includes nearly a half-dozen IPFW graduates – graduates who would have had to travel out of the region for post-secondary study if not for the new college.

It’s too early to claim the new schools will retain graduates in the region, but it’s likely that the connections they make through internships, clinical experiences and simply becoming part of the community increase the likelihood they might stay.

Both of the fourth-year students who finished studies at the Center for Medical Education this spring plan to return to the area after their residencies, according to Dr. Fen-Lei Chang, assistant dean and director of the program. Dr. Jason Siegel is a neurology resident at the College of Medicine Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., and Dr. Brett Smith is completing a residency in orthopedics at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

It’s also important in drawing professionals from outside the community. Packnett said the health system’s ability to lure physicians here is enhanced by the availability of the high-level programs.

Mike Landram, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce, agreed.

“We’re obviously thrilled to put those things on the plus side of the ledger as we market the community and northeast Indiana,” he said. “It just elevates Fort Wayne and the region as far as demonstrating we have professional development available at an advanced level. It sends a statement that we value those kinds of activities.”

Landram also notes that the new programs can serve as a draw for prospective employees in other fields.

“If you’ve got someone you’re trying to hire at Raytheon, for example, they might have a trailing spouse who’s interested in pursuing a degree in one of those programs.”

Indiana Tech awarded its first two doctorates in global leadership studies this past spring. President Arthur Snyder said the program, started in 2009, has just about reached its capacity with 120 students.

“The interest has been exceedingly high,” he said. “We do the homework in investigating these programs. The PhD program outstripped even our wildest projections.”

Snyder said the global leadership program is drawing from a broad base – Ivy Tech professors who want a terminal degree, midcareer professionals and some who are taking classes online and traveling to campus for the program’s immersive study weekends.

Earnings boost

Economic development officials know that high-paying jobs bring the most benefits to a community. Those are created immediately with establishment of post-secondary education programs, with faculty members qualified to teach advanced fields of study.

All members of the faculty at IU School of Medicine-Fort Wayne hold either medical degrees or doctorates. Manchester’s new College of Pharmacy boasts faculty members with degrees in pharmacy, law, molecular biology, inorganic chemistry and more. The first faculty hires at Indiana Tech Law School all have juris doctor degrees, of course.

The link between earnings and degree status is well-documented, according to John Sampson, president and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership. He points to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showing the median weekly earnings for a professional degree-holder were $1,610 in 2010 – more than double the median weekly salary of all wage-earners and $572 a week higher than a bachelor’s degree-holder.

“There is no question that these institutions represent a large upside potential to transform the economy of our region,” Sampson said. “While there is risk in any new venture, these schools will pay dividends for years to come as graduates enter the workforce. Given the presence of these schools in the region, we have upped the opportunity to connect and retain our local graduates through regional employers.”

Indiana Tech’s Snyder notes that faculty members are likely to contribute to the community with their time and talents, participating in civic activities and on local boards and commissions. There are plans for the law program to include at least seven legal clinics, focusing on immigration law, tax assistance for low-income residents and more. Outreach programs in the Burmese population also are planned.

Construction boost

A more diversified workforce with increasing numbers of highly skilled and educated professionals promises long-term economic benefits for the region, but the new programs also contributed a much-needed construction boost during the economic downturn. The Center for Medical Education’s expansion to a four-year program came with the addition of a $12 million, 42,000-square-foot Medical Education Building on the north end of the IPFW campus. The Lilly Endowment gave its largest-ever grant of $35 million to Manchester for its pharmacy program, allowing the university to build a $20 million 80,000-square foot building on Dupont Road, adjacent to the Parkview Regional Medical Center

At Indiana Tech, a $15 million law school building is under construction on the west side of campus, between Maumee Avenue and East Washington Boulevard.

The new buildings become assets not just in terms of the educational opportunities offered within, but also as symbols of a region headed in the right direction.

Manchester’s Switzer gives a nod to “a sense of collaboration and cooperation” among the region’s colleges and universities for the dramatic progress.

“You can’t be in silos; you’ve got to complement one another,” she said, “In a time of such polarization nationally, a community really gets stronger when institutions work together.”

Those efforts are paying off with the addition of advanced programs in health care, management and law.

“We’re encouraged,” said Parkview’s Packnett. “We feel like the momentum is headed in the right direction.”
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