TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology is preparing for a significant anniversary.

“Our sesquicentennial 150th anniversary comes up in 2024,” RHIT President Robert Coons shared.

The school is framing its latest strategic planning effort around this 150-year celebration with efforts underway to stabilize enrollment and develop the campus as well as nearby land.

“That’ll include some thinking about how we develop and incorporate the property we acquired across the street, the Hulman Farm, that we acquired back in 2017,” Coons said. “We’re starting to utilize that.”

Back on RHIT’s main property, a new 70,000 square foot academic building is providing students with new learning opportunities.

“It has state of the art chemistry facilities on the top floor,” Coons said. “Our chemistry department was in dire need of upgrades and improvements. This really brings us into the 21st century with regard to chemistry facilities; part of that includes the new food lab, food chemistry lab, which is kind of a new experiment for us.”

The food chemistry lab is a collaboration between the chemistry department and chemical engineering. The new building also includes new design and study space.

“Most of our students in most of their disciplines now work in small groups,” Coons explained. “That’s really an important part of the curriculum, so having space to do that all over that building is something that makes it extremely positive and extremely popular from a timing perspective.”

Another building on Rose-Hulman’s campus that is being upgraded is Moench Hall.

“We’ve immediately started renovating Moench Hall, which is our primary academic building” Coons said. “The last major renovation of Moench Hall was in the mid-80s and so it was in much need of a fairly significant retrofit.”

Coons said the work on Moench Hall will be completed around summer of 2023.

As Rose-Hulman modernizes campus infrastructure, the student body is also becoming more modern and diverse. Recently introduced opportunities like the EMERGE program for 9th grade girls aim to increase the number of female students by introducing the young girls to STEM programming.

“Our freshman class this year had around 25% female enrollment,” Coons shared. “Our goal is to bring that to at least 30% over time. There’s quite a bit of data that suggests that females properly encouraged in the earlier years in elementary education and mid-education really do well in college and really excel, and our data bears that out. Generally the female GPA is a few data points above the male GPA in terms of overall student enrollment here at Rose, so we’re looking for ways to begin to encourage females at an earlier age to have interest in STEM.”

Another aspect of student life that is being prioritized, particularly in light of the pandemic, is mental health.

Rose-Hulman, along with St. Mary-of-the-Woods College and DePauw University, are collaborating on a grant opportunity called Mindful Connections.

“It’s a 5-year grant from the Lilly Endowment Fund for these three institutions to collaborate and find better ways, new ways, improved ways to provide mental health counseling and support services on our campuses.”

COVID-19’s alteration of higher education is not lost on RHIT faculty and staff.

“We are concerned, as many educational institutions are, about what’s referred to as the enrollment cliff,” Coons said. “With the number of available 18-22 year-old dropping off precipitously somewhere around 2025, 2026.”

Rose-Hulman is focusing on new enrollment strategies to combat this “enrollment cliff”.

Coons pointed to the school’s return on investment rankings, including a recent statistic showing a 20-year ROI of nearly $800,000, as indicators that a higher education investment is worth it long-term.

“We’re starting to focus from a rankings perspective,” Coons explained. “Thinking about return on investment versus just the cost of a 4-year education, and what the return is over the lifetime of your career.”

RHIT recently raised nearly $500,000 during its third “Giving Day” event.