Strong enrollment, academic excellence, and fundraising success demonstrate that confidence in Illinois State University remains high, even in a difficult period for public universities in Illinois. During his annual State of the University Address, President Larry Dietz outlined initiatives for the coming academic year and praised the extended University community for its role in Illinois State’s ongoing success.

“I have often said that during challenging times, the two things we can control are planning processes and our attitude,” said Dietz. “Together, the people of Illinois State University controlled both. Today, we stand strong and stable, and poised for a bright future.”

Illinois State preserved its academic mission during the prolonged state budget impasse by prioritizing resources to keep faculty in the classrooms, student support staff in their offices, and to cover the cost of state Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants for thousands of students with financial need. Dietz noted that the University will continue that investment this academic year with more than $12 million going to supplement MAP grants, and additional investments in merit-based scholarships to attract and retain students.

“In addition, I have doubled the budget in a University College program that provides tools to help raise the retention and graduation rates for underrepresented, first-generation, and financially at-risk students,” said Dietz. “These tools are based on our already successful student support services program that offers highly individualized attention for assistance, counseling, and mentoring.”

The guiding document for Illinois State’s success has been its strategic plan, Educating Illinois, which is currently being reviewed and updated. Early feedback showed a desire to build on the strengths and successes of the plan, and to further emphasize Illinois State’s broad educational reach. That feedback also led to a new name for the plan: Educate, Connect, Elevate.

In addition to ambitious new goals and strategies, the plan offers two new core values for Illinois State, including collaboration, which expresses the dedication to shared governance and partnerships with industry, government, and education.

The new core value of respect stresses the ideal that differences of belief and opinion can be expressed with civility. “I honestly cannot think of a more critical time in our nation’s recent history for this particular core value,” said Dietz. “In addition, the word inclusion has been added to our core value of diversity, reminding us that quality cannot exist without diversity and that diversity will only thrive through inclusion.”

Dietz gave an update on the work of the Campus Climate Assessment Task Force, which recently completed its final report. A soon-to-be-launched website will outline the task force’s recommendations and timelines for the actions that promote inclusivity on campus. One recommendation is the creation of a campus-wide Diversity Executive Council. “We are all a reflection of our University values, and the establishment of the Diversity Executive Council reinforces this core value while sending the message that diversity and inclusion must emanate from every office and every individual on campus,” Dietz said. “I believe the creation of an executive council offers the chance for everyone to have a voice that will lead us to become a stronger University.”

Illinois State continues to move forward with new academic initiatives to meet the demands of an ever-changing and globalizing world. Dietz highlighted the University’s new cybersecurity major that will develop new leaders in a field that directly impacts businesses, schools, governments, and organizations around the world. Discussions are now underway to determine the feasibility of establishing engineering programs in select areas.

“Faculty have already examined employment outlook data for various engineering specialties and have drafted some plans of study,” said Dietz. “Next steps for our faculty include visits to several universities with existing programs to better understand the resources, facilities, equipment, and personnel needed to launch engineering programs.”

During last year’s State of the University Address, Dietz laid out plans for increasing international student enrollment to 5 percent of total enrollment within five years, and to 10 percent within 10 years. He noted that those percentages are consistent with most of Illinois State’s peer institutions and would not adversely impact the enrollment of students from the state of Illinois. Illinois State has formed a partnership with INTO, an organization with a vast international recruiting network.

INTO representatives are working with Illinois State on admissions processes and curricula, as well as financial and legal matters related to international education. “We expect a final agreement with INTO will be signed before the end of this semester, and the first group of international students to be enrolled in the program for fall 2018,” said Dietz.

Looking to the future, Illinois State will also explore ways to incorporate more online degree programs. “Today, Illinois State is missing out on a portion of the population—nontraditional students—for whom physical attendance in a classroom is not feasible,” Dietz said. Plans will include identifying resources needed for such courses and determining how they would most appropriately fit into the University’s existing academic programs.

Academic programs, research initiatives, student scholarships and support services, and facilities at Illinois State will all be enhanced through the University’s newly launched comprehensive campaign, Redbirds Rising. During the campaign’s quiet phase, it raised more than $103 million of its $150 million goal. “Now is the time to build upon our successes, to secure the future of our University, and help our students rise to new levels of academic excellence,” said Dietz.