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Economic Club of Indiana

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

IU President Whitten delivered the Economic Club's keynote address to members and supporters of the organization.

IU President Pamela Whitten speaks from a podium

Economic Club of Indiana address 

Good afternoon. Thank you, Mario (Rodriguez), for that kind introduction. And thank you to everyone in the room here today. It’s an honor and a privilege to be with you.

The members and supporters of the Economic Club of Indiana are truly some of the most influential and engaged leaders in our community. And crucially, the dialogue you spark is shaping the direction of Indianapolis in countless ways.

I look forward to taking your questions a bit later in our time together. And we'll talk at length about how, together, we must invest in the future of our state.

But in doing that, I want to first ground us in some of the opportunities and challenges we face in Indiana. I want to make the case for the role of our state's world-class public universities in responding to those challenges and as an economic and cultural driver of our shared future. And I want to be crystal clear about the commitment Indiana University is making as a leading partner and collaborator to drive innovation, attract investment and chart a prosperous future for Hoosiers everywhere.

Understanding our shared opportunity and shared challenge

Leading Indiana University is the honor of a lifetime. Alongside our faculty and staff across the state, we are pursuing an ambitious future for IU—a future that continues to put our students first—and a future that harnesses the full power and influence of our talented faculty and statewide reach.  

We seek an even stronger IU. Not for ourselves, but for the impact we can have on this state.

We seek a stronger IU that stands in partnership with business, with philanthropy, and with state government. And we seek a stronger IU because if we do our work well, then we do our part in elevating this city and this state.

Together, we can build on our state’s existing strengths while tackling some of our pressing challenges.

Our strengths

We are gathered today in a city that can celebrate having one of the nation’s most livable downtowns, according to We are in a metropolitan area that ranks in the Forbes top ten for young professionals and high-tech job growth.

Alongside Indianapolis, our friends in South Bend and Fort Wayne were recently ranked among the top 100 of the US News 150 Best Places to Live in the United States.

Bloomington hits the top 25 best places to live in America and, according to LinkedIn, is among the best cities for launching an international career. (While I’m biased, with campuses in each of these cities, I think IU can take at least a bit of credit for a few of these markers.)

And overall, CNBC recently ranked Indiana as the top state for infrastructure – specifically noting the sheer volume of goods transported here, the quality and availability of broadband, access to key business markets, and our potential to manage extreme weather due to climate change.

Our challenges

Yet, our state’s strengths—and the opportunities that come with them—are tempered by difficult challenges.

If we are to truly realize our potential—as a city, state and region—we must confront them head-on. And I know IU can and will lead in doing so.

As our own IU Public Policy Institute reports, at least 100,000 children in the Indianapolis area live in or near poverty. 100,000 adults across our region lack a high school diploma. 250,000 adults are at risk of losing their job to automation.

The United Health Foundation ranked Indiana 41st in overall health—with infant mortality rates among the worst in the country. We also fall short in providing access to mental health care, where we rank 43rd. Stubbornly, we rank 45th for smoking and tobacco use.

And lastly, post-secondary attainment in Indianapolis continues to lag our peers, while average wages are low and wage growth is slow. [1]

The recent report from the Indiana Commission on Higher Education puts our post-secondary challenges in perspective. Even as Indiana’s college completion rates improve—IU’s included—college-going rates in Indianapolis and across the state are on a frustrating double-digit decline.[2] Just five years ago, 65 percent of Indiana high school graduates pursued some form of higher education – from industry certificates to two or four-year degree programs. Today, just over half choose to do so.[3]

Now, no single entity—business, government, philanthropic or educational—can address these challenges alone. But address them we must.

And doing so will require an ecosystem with partners and collaboration across sectors to reverse some of these key markers.

At IU, we stand with you as a leading part of that ecosystem, with a desire to work together.

Universities and growth 

For us, that work begins by being an exceptional public research university in every possible way.

It starts with ensuring access to higher education, continues by providing lasting impact through expertise to shape public policy, knowledge and discovery to drive innovation in our own backyard, and service to shape live and improve communities.

IU has done all this and more for over 200 years, but the scope of our impact must grow further—in part because we know that our success delivers success for Indiana.

The value of universities 

When it comes to evaluating our public research universities and the economic value we can bring to the states we call home—the research is clear.

States that invest in robust and vibrant universities produce more graduates, fuel business and industry, and create stronger, more prosperous communities.

Just a ten-point difference in the share of a state's population with a bachelor’s degree or higher correlates to a roughly one-third increase in average individual wages for the state's residents.[4]

A London School of Economics Analysis of more than 15,000 universities in 78 countries found that the mere presence of top-notch universities creates spill-over benefits. Greater innovation. Increased human capital. And higher GDP per capita.[5]

In Indiana, thanks to the Higher Ed Commission's research, we know that each class of Indiana public college graduates—from regional campuses to flagship campuses—contributes more than $13 billion to the state’s economy.

And across the Midwest, research universities are driving reliable workforce pipelines to address growing needs in technology and advanced manufacturing, among other sectors. Major research universities in Columbus, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis are crucial as anchors of regional economic growth helping these legacy Rust Belt cities rebound.[6]

The 20 research universities throughout the Great Lakes region—which includes both IU and Purdue—generate 33 percent of our nation's STEM graduates, produce 31 percent of U.S. university-based research and development, and receive 34 percent of all National Institutes of Health research funding.

Incidentally, our own IU School of Medicine—the largest in the nation—ranks 14th nationally in total NIH funded research among public universities, and our aspiration is nothing short of top ten.

The public is surprisingly aligned on the benefits of college 

Even against this unmistakable evidence of higher ed's value, distrust of our key institutions—higher ed included—is real.

Yet that growing skepticism exists alongside a lasting public acknowledgment and understanding of the positive impact of leading public universities like IU.

Strong majorities of Americans across party, race, and geography view education as a source of economic opportunity. And they see higher education as a source of shared economic benefit. According to a Public Agenda/USA Today survey funded in part by Indy’s Lumina Foundation, 71 percent of Americans believe that their state’s capacity to attract employers would improve if more people in their state had a college education. And three in four Americans believe there would be positive impacts on people’s ability to earn a good living if more people in their state had a degree.[7]

Of course, they're right.

But what does that suggest for where we go as a state?

I believe it means Hoosiers need greater confidence in their ability to afford higher education, more tools to help them do so, and stronger incentives to pursue their education here.

I came here from a state that put its HOPE Scholarship at the center of its higher ed policy arsenal. The program offered life-changing scholarships to talented Georgia students who attended the state’s public colleges and universities.

Driven largely by retaining these high-achieving students, the total enrollment at Georgia public colleges and universities increased by 15 percent during HOPE's first decade. Enrollment at state colleges and universities by Georgia's Black students increased by nearly 70 percent. And the overall reputation of Georgia's public colleges and universities increased as well, particularly at the state’s flagship – the University of Georgia, which is now securely among the nation’s top twenty public research universities. In recent years, HOPE awards have helped more than 95,000 Georgia college students annually.[8]

And just this month, the State of Michigan passed legislation that will invest more than $250 million to create the Michigan Achievement Scholarship. Nearly three of every four Michigan residents who attend a Michigan public university will be eligible for an additional $5,500 annually – for up to five years.

States like Michigan and Georgia are investing in ways that increase enrollment and create meaningful opportunity for students. In Indiana, we must also invest in the future of our students, and in the future of our workforce.

From the lasting philanthropic legacy of the Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship Program to the state-led 21st Century Scholars program, Indiana can boast a strong foundation in our shared pursuit of college affordability and access. But there is more we can and must do—as a state, and among those of us leading our state's premier post-secondary institutions.

We have it in our collective power to help more Hoosiers go to college, afford college, and graduate from college—whether that’s at IU, one of our state's other excellent colleges, or through a high-quality certificate program.

Doing our part at Indiana University

At Indiana University, our work begins with those students who choose to study with us. And it continues with our vow to be an unwavering and engaged leader in our economic, social, and artistic ecosystem—in Bloomington, Indianapolis, and across our entire state.

And this is reflected in our priorities.

The IU 2030 Strategic Plan Framework

We are the only university in the state of Indiana with the reach and capacity to contribute at this scale. And that’s a responsibility we do not take lightly.  

IU 2030, our framework for the development of strategic plans for each of our campuses, is grounded in our commitment to the success of Indiana students, to research that improves lives, and to a platform of service that brings resources and expertise to bear on the greatest challenges facing Indiana communities.  

We believe that success for students is grounded in affordability, excellent faculty, cutting edge curriculum, an unwavering commitment to equity and inclusion, and a hyper focus on equipping students for a globally interconnected world.

We view transformative research as a crucial outcome of IU's unmistakable academic excellence, where our targeted and strategic investments yield groundbreaking treatments, the advent of new industries, and awe-inspiring cultural and creative endeavors.

And both of these core pillars of our plan redound to our third: a dedicated focus to improve the lives of the people and economic vitality of Indiana. Not just for our students, but for all Hoosiers.

A growing anchor in Indianapolis

The core tenets of our plan are already present in our outlook for Indianapolis as we prepare to transition from IUPUI to IU-Indianapolis.

This is a world-class city and it deserves a truly world-class university. And the work of making this a reality is already underway.

In the coming decades, you can expect to see an acceleration of innovative degrees and solutions that prepare all students for rewarding careers and fulfilling lives, an even stronger research enterprise that drives economic growth and attracts top faculty and students, and flourishing culture of innovation and entrepreneurship that will strengthen Indianapolis’ position as one of our country’s great urban centers.

Our goal is simple and ambitious: IU-Indianapolis should become the nation’s leading urban research university campus.

A track record of success, aspiration for more 

From the moment I joined IU, I was in awe of our strengths—our extraordinary faculty, our dedicated staff, and our impressive and curious student body—but I'm even more encouraged and excited by what we aspire to become.  

And I'm confident in our ability to succeed because I’m confident in our people.

Their track record speaks for itself.

IU is fueling growth in nurses, physicians, teachers and more. There are currently more than 392,000 IU graduates living in Indiana. They include 58 percent of our state's doctors, 75 percent of Indiana lawyers, 40 percent of Hoosier nurses, at least a third of our K-12 teachers, 64 percent of optometrists, and a whopping 90 percent of all Indiana dentists.

We are viewing student success through a lens of access, equity, and social and economic mobility.

This includes an emphasis on affordability and a focus on degree completion.

We've waived key fees at our regional campuses. Our Academic Tuition and Fees Task Force is pursuing ways to minimize overall cost of attendance. And across all of our campuses, IU has increased four-year graduation rates by at least 15% and – on at least one campus - by as much as 26% over the past decade.

This work also includes a focus on equity and on-campus support. For 50 years, the Groups Scholars program at our Bloomington flagship has provided an extensive cohort-style student support system to increase attendance and strengthen completion rates for first-generation and underrepresented students at IU. And we intend to expand it so that all our regional campuses have similar programs. This will only enhance the strengths our campuses in Richmond and South Bend already demonstrate as US News top 10 regional public universities for social mobility.

In research, our impact is wide and deep.

Our Indianapolis campus is arguably ground-zero in the global fight against Alzheimer's disease.

Our Bloomington campus is home to one of the world’s most powerful artificial intelligence-capable supercomputers, which equips our students and faculty to solve problems more quickly and shape advancements in medicine, cybersecurity, climate research, and more.

Just last year, our faculty secured $732.2 million in sponsored funding, with $520.7 million of that directly funding high-impact research.

In the same year, IU received 149 new invention disclosures, filed 293 new patent applications and had 129 patents issued, generating four new startups and $11.9 million in revenue.

In short, we could spend all afternoon talking about the intellectual, creative and economic contributions of our faculty. But I'm most interested in how we continue to expand the scope of these efforts to maximize our economic impact, create new discoveries and attract new partners and new talent.  

What connects all of our work is a belief that by linking our strengths with the state’s needs, we can and will contribute to our state’s prosperity, its public health, and its culture.

And we have the academic focus and economic development talent to make that linkage even stronger.

We're investing in programs across our campuses that address pressing needs in computer science and public health – including through expanded online options like our Masters in Public Health Administration. And of course, our highly-ranked Kelley School of Business continues to produce leading business professionals on our campuses and through the nation’s number one online MBA program.        

When it comes to economic development, today we welcomed former Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce President and CEO (and friend to many in this room) Michael Huber to IU as our vice president for university relations. I know that with his leadership, the connection between Indiana University and the vitality of Indianapolis and our state will only continue to grow.


As I conclude, I look forward to taking some questions and continuing the dialogue.

I hope it's clear that our commitment to this state is stronger than ever. Greater access to education for Indiana's most talented students makes IU better. And Indiana stronger. Expanded high-impact research from world-renowned scholars makes IU better. And Indiana healthier, safer and more secure.

Greater linkage between higher ed and our government and business partners makes IU better. And Indiana more prosperous. We seek a strong and vibrant IU. But we seek a strong and vibrant IU because that’s how we best serve this city and the state we call home.

We will do our part in elevating this state. And while it's sometimes tempting to be humbled by the complexity of the challenges we face, I am tremendously optimistic for the future we can and will build together.

Thank you very much.


[1] Presentation: The State of Indianapolis, IU Public Policy Institute analysis and presentation, prepared by Senior Policy Analyst Drew Klacik.  

[2] Casey Smith, "Enrollment flat at Indiana public colleges, but long-term trend a concern," Indianapolis Business Journal.

[3] 2022 College Completion Report, Indiana Commission for Higher Education, Accessed October 11, 2022. 

[4] Noah Berger, Peter Fisher, "A Well-Educated Workforce is Key to State Prosperity," Economic Policy Institute, August 22, 2013, Web, Accessed October 11, 2022.

[5] Anna Valero and John Van Reenen, "The economic impact of universities: Evidence from across the globe," Economics of Education Review, February 2019

[6] Richard Florida, David J. Adams, "Goodbye to the Days of the 'Rust Belt,'" The Wall Street Journal, January 27, 2022, Web, Accessed October 11, 2022.

[7] "America's Hidden Common Ground on Higher Education: What's Wrong and How to Fit It," Public Agenda, July 11, 2022, Web, Accessed October 11, 2022.

[8] "Hope Scholarship," The New Georgia Encyclopedia, Accessed October 15, 2023.

More about President Whitten

Meet IU's 19th president and see IU's areas of focus.