ELKHART — It’s been five years since Indiana University South Bend opened its Elkhart Center in a permanent building downtown.
The parking lots are now packed many evenings, and officials are looking to expand its offerings during the daytime and in its fine arts department.
“The place has mushroomed,” said Alfred Guillaume Jr., IUSB’s executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. “It is an extraordinary facility. It meets, I think, all of the needs of the university, and certainly we hope it meets the needs of the community.”
The IUSB Elkhart Center opened its doors in the fall of 2007 after several Elkhart community members raised the money to build the facility at 125 E. Franklin St. and gave it to IU upon completion.
Working out of the nearby Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce building, Kyle Hannon, Chamber vice president of public policy and a member of the Elkhart City Council, sees students heading to and from classes. That includes both younger, traditional students, as well as non-traditional students, he noted, all contributing to improving the local workforce and, in turn, local income levels.
“It adds a certain amount of excitement when you see students walking around downtown,” Hannon said.
Enrollment at the school reached a peak in the fall of 2010, with 883 students taking 4,484 credit hours. The number of actual students has tapered off some, though the number of credit hours taken at the Elkhart Center have remained between about 3,500 and 4,200 for the last two years.
“Back in 2009, when it started growing, that’s when the economy started turning,” said Timothy Ryan, IUSB’s director of extended learning services. “We had more and more people who were coming back to school, getting their degree. But, quite frankly, that (enrollment peak) was an anomaly. And as the economy has improved and people have hopefully started to find new jobs, new fits, et cetera, enrollment has steadily gone down a little bit, but it’s been very steady and constant and always ahead of that 2007 rate” when 618 students took 2,959 credit hours.
Students can not currently complete a four-year degree solely at the Elkhart campus. The IUSB Elkhart Center offers the first two years of general education courses, along with academic advising and other resources. Most IUSB students take classes at both the Elkhart and main South Bend campuses during a semester, though around 200 students, mostly from Elkhart County, have taken classes only in Elkhart the last few years.
School officials are looking at ways to continue to grow.
“At night, we’re absolutely packed,” Ryan said. There’s plenty of room to expand class offerings during the day, though.
The building is also used for some community meetings and officials are working to further connect the school to the community.
This month’s Elkhart ArtWalk will be the second that IUSB has participated in and this summer was the first year for a partnership between the Lerner Theatre and IUSB through which IUSB brought its theater productions to the Lerner.
Earlier this year, Doloris Cogan donated $200,000 to establish and support that partnership, now the Doloris C. Cogan IU South Bend Summer Theatre Series.
Marvin Curtis, dean of IUSB’s Raclin School of the Arts, said the Lerner Theatre makes an artistic partnership with the Elkhart community especially attractive and that there are benefits on both sides.
The Elkhart community is able to enjoy IUSB’s shows, and, in turn, students learn how to travel with a show and are able to experience the Lerner’s facilities. By working with Lerner staff, a few students have also earned internships there, Curtis mentioned.
“The theater program this summer was very successful,” Curtis said.
IUSB is also looking at housing several arts classes in Elkhart’s railroad depot. IUSB’s Guillaume said that would include a dance studio, art classes and more.
Mike Huber, president of Downtown Elkhart Inc’s board, said that the IUSB-Elkhart campus largely brings a positive vibe to the downtown just by being there.
“The property before was a falling down parking lot, which was not a positive contributor to downtown in any way,” he said. He noted how its creation “in itself speaks of how the community wanted to increase its presence here.”
Hannon agreed, calling it “a local monument” of how the Elkhart community comes together.
He’ll explain to visitors to the Chamber, he said, about how local people financed the building and gave it to IU, “a model I think a lot of communities would envy.”