Harrison College Still Churning Out Grads After More Than a Century

MUNCIE — Though off the beaten path and not as well known as Ball State University or Ivy Tech Community College, Muncie's oldest college continues to turn out graduates.

The Muncie campus of Harrison College, formerly known as Indiana Business College, opened in 1903. Today, its strengths include small classes, block scheduling, the quarter system, higher graduation rates than BSU or Ivy Tech, and keeping up with demand for medical assistant graduates, though business and criminal justice degrees also are popular.

Indiana State Normal School opened in 1918, became Ball Teachers College in 1922, then Ball State Teachers College in 1929 before again being renamed Ball State University in 1965, two years after Ivy Tech was founded.

While the sticker price of attending the private, for-profit Harrison College is higher than attending the state-supported Ivy Tech, "we have smaller classes," said Harrison spokesman Mark Apple. "Our students get personal, one-on-one attention. They're not just a number. We have no 100-seat lecture halls. And we have a higher graduation rate — 43 percent compared to 10 percent at Ivy Tech."

Those percentages represent the number of students who graduate on time. Ball State's graduation rate is 34 percent.

Mandi Riggins, whose last job was at Jerry's Dairy Freeze in Parker City, is younger than the typical Harrison College student, which would be a 27-year-old single working mom.

Riggins, a recent high school graduate who is married but has no children, is enrolled in the most popular program at the Muncie campus: medical assistant, a two-year degree.

Medical assistants perform administrative and clinical tasks to keep the offices of physicians running smoothly. Their duties include handling patient records, scheduling appointments, completing insurance forms, taking vital signs of patients, collecting and packaging lab specimens and sterilizing medical instruments.

"I like it here," Riggins said. "The classes are small, and everybody knows you by name."

Dunkirk resident Lisa Choate, who is 50 and visually impaired, last worked in a grocery store. She is earning a bachelor's degree from Harrison in business management and accounting. "I love the faculty and the normally small classes, the one-on-one with the teachers," she said.

Brittany Mekelburg, 28, who is married to a veteran who now works as a prison correctional officer, has a two-year-old son. She is studying for a bachelor's degree in business finance/accounting at Harrison, which found her a work-study job in human resources at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital.

"You don't get lost in the crowd here," she said.

"The teachers are 100 percent behind you," Choate added.

"They want you to graduate; they help you," Riggins said.

Harrison also has campuses in Anderson, Columbus, Elkhart, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis (three locations), Evansville, Lafayette, Columbus, Ohio, and Raleigh, N.C. The school also offers degrees in veterinary technician, information technology and culinary arts, though not at the Muncie campus.

In the late 1990s, Harrison moved its Muncie campus to a long, low-slung building at 411 W. Riggin Road near the Delaware County Airport and next to a mini-warehouse.

Enrollment at the Muncie campus is about 200, including 50 online-only students. Tuition for a full-time medical student is $4,380 for 12 hours, but virtually all students receive financial aid in the form of Pell Grants, scholarships and loans. The Muncie campus employs 15 full-time and eight part-time faculty and staff. The college is moving to a block schedule, which allows students to attend classes on fewer days but for more hours per day. The college says it is doing so to help its students spend less money on gas and to make it easier to find child care.

Charlene Purtlebaugh, president of the Muncie campus, earned an undergraduate degree in speech communication and a master's degree in organizational/professional communication development from Ball State. She is pursuing her doctorate in higher education leadership online from Walden University.

Under her leadership, the Muncie campus was named "Most Progressive Campus" of the year by Harrison. The Muncie campus was chosen over 11 other Harrison campuses, the school's online division and The Chef's Academy in Indianapolis and North Carolina.

Muncie is the first Harrison campus to start a chapter of the Student Veterans of America Association, and hosted a veterans appreciation luncheon. The campus also created "Ask the Instructor" and "Doughnuts with the Dean" programs and has rallied support for the community's Coats Against the Cold and Tools for School charitable drives.


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