Illinois State University remains strong and stable despite an ongoing state budget crisis that has had a devastating impact on public higher education in Illinois. That is the assessment made by Illinois State President Larry Dietz during his annual State of the University Address.
Dietz lauded the University’s continued academic excellence, operational success, and growing enrollment during a time of reduced state funding for operational needs and scholarships for financially needy students. Pointing out that the state budget crisis is unlikely to be resolved before the November election, Dietz pledged that Illinois State will maintain its commitment to providing a high-quality education for its students in the coming year.
“We will again put our students first by keeping our professors in the classrooms and our support staff in their offices,” said Dietz. “I do not see a circumstance where we will have to resort to layoffs or furlough days, something that has already happened and will continue to happen at many other colleges and universities throughout the state.”
During the past academic year Illinois State covered the cost of Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants for thousands of financially needy students when the state failed to make those payments. “We will also again pay forward to our 4,000 students with high financial need the millions they need to attend classes and pay for housing, books, food, and clothing,” Dietz said. “We have a moral and ethical contract to teach and support all of our students and I intend to keep it.”
Stressing the important role that higher education plays in society, Dietz reiterated his call for lawmakers in Springfield to put aside partisan differences and break the state’s budget stalemate. As the convener of a group of public university presidents in Illinois, Dietz is taking a lead role in urging the governor and legislative leaders to provide a reliable source of higher education funding. In talking with lawmakers Dietz cites Illinois State’s Metrics of Excellence, examples of the University’s accomplishments in the midst of a state budget crisis and an increasingly competitive student recruiting environment.
“Illinois State again met the challenge, and we begin this year with 3,638 new freshmen and a total enrollment of 21,039,” said Dietz, noting this year’s incoming freshman class set a 27-year record. “I am also proud to say that about one-fifth of our student population comes from traditionally underrepresented groups, with a 10 percent increase in African-American students and a 9 percent increase in Latino/Latina students, so we have strength in our diversity.”
A student retention rate of 82 percent and a graduation rate of 73.4 percent put Illinois State among the top 10 percent of universities in the nation. “Our students graduate, they graduate on time, and they get good jobs,” Dietz said. “Almost one third of Illinois State students graduate with no college-related debt at all.”
Illinois State was recently ranked 78th among the best national public universities by U.S. News and World Report. The University also routinely appears in Money Magazine, Kiplinger’s, Business Week, Washington Monthly, and other national publications that rate schools for quality and value. For the second consecutive year, Illinois State has been named a “Great College to Work For” by the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Dietz outlined goals for the coming year, including enhancing international education, student civic engagement, and diversity initiatives on campus.
“We will continue our efforts to bring more international students to our campus, not for financial gain, but to increase Illinois State’s geographical diversity,” said Dietz. “Our efforts will not deny access to qualified Illinois students who want to attend Illinois State, but a university that aspires to prepare students for success in a competitive global environment should welcome and educate more students from around the globe.”
Illinois State’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning continues to develop and will serve to coordinate campus initiatives that connect students with leadership and community service opportunities. The center is currently conducting civic outcomes assessments with students enrolled in COM 110, students in the Civic Engagement and Responsibility minor, and with alumni. “Goals for the year include the development of a campus civic action plan, the development of a website, and the formation of a community advisory group to create additional mutually beneficial campus-community partnerships,” Dietz said.
Dietz announced that Illinois State will establish the National Center for Urban Education, which will use a community-based approach to develop transformative, resilient, and effective public schools. “The Center will address three current needs in urban education,” said Dietz. “Reducing the human and capital costs of high teacher attrition rates, preparing culturally informed and responsive teachers for the reality of demographic change, and demonstrating the value of community-based partnerships to enhance shared educational goals.”
In support of Illinois State’s core value of diversity and its commitment to being a welcoming and inclusive campus, a task force of faculty and staff members has been appointed to address the findings of a recent Campus Climate Assessment Report. “The task force will review Climate Assessment findings and bring recommendations to me, and to other members of our leadership team, including Provost [Janet] Krejci, Vice President [Troy] Johnson and Trustee Anne Davis,” said Dietz. “While I know we cannot implement every recommendation immediately, I am committed that this assessment will serve as a call to action for the University community.”