In his first State of the University address, Illinois State President Timothy J. Flanagan highlighted the University’s accomplishments and outlined plans for guiding the institution through budget challenges and increased competition for students.
Flanagan, who was appointed president in May, said he looks at Illinois State through the eyes of a newcomer and sees many strengths that others may take for granted. “There are hundreds of public and private universities around the country that would give anything to have the students we enroll, the faculty and staff that work here, and the capacity to move closer to the measures of success we have achieved,” he said.
He pointed to the University’s continuing success in attracting a diverse and academically talented student body. “Our freshman ACT average rose three-tenths of a percent to 24 and their high school grade-point-average rose to 3.4,” said Flanagan. “Twenty-six percent of our freshman class comes from underrepresented groups, up 13.4 percent from last year, including a 27 percent increase in African-American freshmen.”
The strength of incoming students is ultimately reflected in Illinois State’s graduation and retention rates, which remain the second highest in the state and among the best in the nation for comparable-sized public universities. “I am very pleased to tell you today that just a week ago we learned that Illinois State’s graduation rate rose to 71.5 percent, which is up 2.7 percent from just five years ago,” Flanagan said.
Flanagan noted that even with the high quality of its academic programs and the many improvements in its physical infrastructure, Illinois State, like all public universities, faces some serious challenges.
“While our total enrollment remained strong this year, our on-campus enrollment dipped slightly,” he said. “Illinois is one of the top exporters of college students to other states and the competition for students from border state universities is fierce. Our data show Illinois State does an excellent job of retaining the high-quality students we recruit, but in this extremely competitive environment we must do an even better job of recruiting and investing in enrollment incentives to insure our numbers rebound and that we continue to attract strong numbers of academically motivated students.”
Decreased state funding for higher education and uncertainties over the future of the state pension system pose ongoing challenges for Illinois State. “At $74 million, Illinois State University’s state funding is at about the same level as in 1998 and it is highly unlikely we will see a substantive increase in state support in the near term or even long term,” Flanagan said. “In fact, it is much more likely that our spending power will be further eroded as Illinois’ public universities begin to assume a share of the state’s massive pension burden.”
Given those challenges, Flanagan called for the University to use creative and collaborative approaches to stretch existing resources and strengthen alternative revenue streams through grants, contracts and privately raised funds.
“I am asking Vice President for University Advancement Erin Minné to work with her fellow vice presidents and Advancement leadership to begin the complex process of planning for Illinois State’s next comprehensive campaign,” he said. “This is not a process that will be accomplished in a few months. Indeed it will be more than a year before a distinct plan is in place. I cannot give you a timeline but I can promise it will be a collaborative effort and one that responds to and emanates from our strategic plan, Educating Illinois.”
Flanagan also directed Vice President for Finance and Planning Dan Layzell and Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Sheri Noren Everts to engage the campus community in a dialogue about the University’s long-term financial plan. “This work, which flows directly from Educating Illinois, will broaden and deepen campuswide understanding of the financial resource environment in which the University operates, and will surely identify new ways to strengthen our great record of financial stewardship,” he said.
Flanagan stressed that keeping public higher education affordable and accessible must continue to be a high priority. “I am sure that we cannot continue to increase the cost of attendance in public higher education as we have done so in the last decade, without imperiling access and thereby limiting opportunity for social mobility,” he said. “If we reduce rather than increase access to postsecondary education, we risk our economic competitiveness and our most potent force for socioeconomic progress in America.”