A new model for Hoosier advancement


Morton Marcus

Allow me to play with an unpopular idea. Let’s take Indiana in a different direction. Let’s transform the IEDC, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, into a new IEDC, the Indiana Education Development Corporation.

From previous columns in this long series, you have seen that our economic progress has been mediocre, rarely among the leading states in the nation.

For decades, Indiana thrived when it attracted branch locations of national and international corporations. We also benefited from having our indigenous business entities bought out by invasive “foreign” firms of other states.

Certainly, we can point to a handful of firms (most notably Cummins and Lilly) that continue to be among the leading corporations headquartered in this state. But we do not see the dynamic fervor of many companies that celebrate innovation, that spinoff competitors, that are magnets for entrepreneurial thinking.

What if we turned away from attracting business jobs at low-to-medium wages? What if spent our millions on quality education at all levels?

Immediately thoughts go to K-12 schooling. Look instead at our colleges and universities. IU, Notre Dame, and Purdue have claims on significant achievements and have their advocates generously supporting their athletic departments.

But Harvard, MIT, Chicago, Yale, Berkeley, John Hopkins, to name a half dozen academic super-stars, are not renowned for their sporting teams. In addition, there are smaller schools (Macalister, Washington (St. Louis), Howard, Rose-Hulman, Cornell (Iowa), Claremont) that have distinguished qualities independent of their national rankings for croquet or other diversions.

Indiana has a multitude of higher education institutions that could be developed as national and international powerhouses of intellectual progress. But today they rise and fall with their basketball teams.

IU and Purdue have developed chain-gang schools in Indianapolis, Northwest Indiana, Fort Wayne, South Bend and other communities. Those satellites need to be set free.

The dismemberment of IUPUI is the premier example of a disregard for achievement in favor of the exercise of centralized power. The rise and fall of Butler and Evansville has depended on their basketball prowess. Trine and Indiana State, Hanover and Valparaiso, Wabash and Earlham, DePauw and Manchester are among our latent venues for excellence.

It will take flushing out many administrators and inadequate faculty members. It will take a major overhaul and, possibly, elimination of the Commission for Higher Education. But it could yield superior Schools of Education, the best hope for our enervated primary and secondary schools.

My career in Indiana since 1970, more than half a century, as an observer and analyst of anemic economic development and failed economic policy, has led me to believe our Hoosier Holyland has neglected its most important industry: Education.

It’s time to put the three Rs back in education: Respect, Rigor, and Responsibility. Higher education is the place to start.

Mr. Marcus is an economist. Reach him at [email protected]. Follow him and John Guy on Who Gets What? wherever podcasts are available or at mortonjohn.libsyn.com.