Dietz delivers State of the University address
Strong and stable–those are the words Illinois State University President Larry Dietz used to describe the University during his annual State of the University address.
Dietz noted that Illinois State continues on a path of excellence despite the lack of a state budget and imminent cuts in state funding for higher education. He thanked members of the University community for their hard work and dedication during trying times and outlined plans for the coming year.
Addressing the ever-present state financial crisis, Dietz said when a state budget is finally worked out, the University may receive much less funding than in previous years. In recent conversations with Gov. Bruce Rauner and state legislators, Dietz stressed that “the current budget impasses are having a tremendous negative impact on current students and on students who are now making decisions on where they will attend college.”
Dietz emphasized that Illinois State will continue to place a high priority on supporting students and enabling them to continue their education. Although the state no longer reimburses public universities for tuition waivers for veterans, National Guard members, and special education teachers, the University is investing in the education of 680 of those students at a cost of $6.5 million. More than 4,000 Illinois State students are eligible for Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants at a value of more than $15 million. “Since there is currently no state budget for FY2016, there has been no MAP disbursement,” said Dietz. “Illinois State, like other public universities, is holding students harmless so they can attend classes this semester.”
Illinois State has placed a freeze on administrative hiring and more than 70 administrative-related positions have been eliminated or held vacant for an annual savings of $3.6 million. Timelines have been pushed back for millions of dollars in renovation and maintenance projects that are not safety critical. There is also a hold on most major equipment purchases, and university-related travel has been curtailed.
“One thing we have not yet been forced to do is to short-change our students in the classroom,” said Dietz. “We are fortunate that our robust freshman and total enrollment has allowed us to keep our professors in the classrooms, and offer students the number of course sections necessary to provide for their education, and keep them on-track for on-time graduation.”
Illinois State continues to garner national recognition for the quality of its academic programs and the overall value it provides for its students. “Students have many options,” said Dietz. “They seek the best higher education value available and then they vote with their feet. Our data shows that Illinois State remains a popular destination and our numbers remain strong and stable.”
The fall 2015 freshman class enrollment totaled 3,632 students, a 26-year high. Total university enrollment increased by 1 percent over last fall. One-fifth of Illinois State’s student population comes from traditionally underrepresented groups. This fall saw an 8 percent increase in the number of Hispanic students and a 6 percent increase in African-American students.
Dietz also highlighted the University’s continuing success in private fundraising, with a record-breaking $36.8 million in total productivity for fiscal year 2015. That total was made possible by a surge in planned gifts and a growing base of alumni supporters. “I note, for the record, that no one donated to pay our utility bills, repave our parking lots or replace worn out pipes,” said Dietz. “Private gifts do help enhance campus facilities, develop academic programs, attract, and retain talented faculty and staff, and provide student scholarships, but are not meant to replace state support.”
Plans for the coming year include filling key leadership roles across campus and implementing initiatives to enhance civic engagement activities and campus diversity. A search process for a permanent vice president for Student Affairs has been launched with the goal of filling that position by the end of the spring 2016 term. Dietz also announced the appointment of Greg Alt to a fixed term as continuing vice president for Finance and Planning through December 2017.
“Greg has been an integral part of Illinois State’s finance leadership for more than two decades,” said Dietz. “He has earned the trust and respect of the campus community, and during these chaotic economic circumstances, I can’t think of anyone better suited to navigate the fiscal maze in Springfield.”
Selection processes for deans for the College of Business and Mennonite College of Nursing have also begun.
The Center for Civic Engagement, announced by Dietz during last year’s State of the University address, is continuing to develop. When fully implemented, the Center will coordinate campus initiatives that connect students with leadership and community service opportunities.
“Although it will take a few years for the Center to become fully operational as a campus community unit, I want to stress that Illinois State’s core value of civic engagement will remain strong and that the University will continue to be viewed as a national model for engagement education and activity,” said Dietz.
Dietz also gave an update on an initiative addressing another of the University’s core values. Work will begin this semester on an assessment of the climate for diversity on campus. The assessment will include a review of existing diversity data and interviews with students, faculty, and staff to identify key diversity themes for the University community to evaluate.
“Illinois State strives to provide a welcoming environment for people from all walks of life,” said Dietz. “But the discussions also tell me something I’ve known my entire life—that the largest room in the world is the room for improvement. I know we can do more. I am confident we will do more, and I think this assessment is an excellent vehicle to continue our efforts.”
Watch the State of the University address: