INDIANAPOLIS – One day before she was to achieve a lifetime dream, Heather Watkins said she fought off a panic attack in her doctor’s office when she learned Martin University would not be awarding her with a bachelor’s degree.
Watkins’ 3.6 grade point average and associate’s degree from Indiana Wesleyan University notwithstanding, Martin ruled that the on-line high school diploma acquired by the east side single mother did not count.
We profiled Heather’s plight Sunday night on FOX59 News and got the attention of Martin University President Dr. Eugene White.
“I think you achieved that,” said White. “She is the prototype of the student at Martin where 75% of our students are female older students with families and life situations.”
The FOX59 story encouraged White to personally re-examine Heather’s academic record and he determined that she did indeed qualify for her Psychology degree.
“With your help, and Dr. Eugene White doing what’s right as far as actually giving me my degree that I worked for,” said Watkins, “For two years, night and day, over time and things like that, I am able to go home with a degree in my hand. I’m able to place it on my wall in my office and I’m awful excited about that.”
Watkins is a counselor with the state of Indiana and said the degree will make her more promotable and provide a better salary to support her daughter. She intends to pursue a master’s degree and doctorate. She’s will give birth this summer to a son.
“It worked out greatly and hopefully I can work with Martin University on some other things now that I have my degree.”
That’s good news to Dr. White who was brought on board at Martin last fall after retiring as the IPS superintendent.
White found Indiana’s only traditionally black university in perilous financial straits, under federal oversight and in need of an internal examination.
He created a long term plan.
“The five-year plan is really not a strategic plan,” said White. “Its a to-do plan that deals with everything from curriculum, academic program, everything down to facilities. We’ve been making headway but we also stepped into a situation where there was concern about financial payback, financial aid to the federal government. There was another situation with the higher learning commission.”
White said Martin still owes the federal government $300,000 to square the books on past financial aid improprieties. He right sized enrollment projections, trimmed staff and faculty and, in a rarity for the small east side college, didn’t have to sweat making the payroll.
The president is exploring grants and the establishment of a foundation to get Martin on solid financial footing. He expects fall enrollment to grow to approximately 550 students while attempting to increase graduation rates to 18% while trying to retain more of the 27% freshmen who come back for their sophomore year.
“We’re not going to try to be Purdue or IU or Ball State,” said White after Heather’s private graduation ceremony. “We want to serve that population of 500-800 students and be the best that we can with that particular number.”
White said Martin has traditionally teetered on the verge of insolvency.
“I think when you have a small university with one source of income, that threat is always there, so one of the things we have to do at Martin is generate a second source of income and that’s what we’re working on, too.
“This university deserves to be saved.”