Dear Redbird Alumni and Friends,
As the 2018-2019 academic year begins, I am writing to give you a brief campus update and to thank you for the many levels of support you give to Illinois State University.
I am grateful that many of you took time to communicate with your state legislators, urging them to pass a budget in a timely manner. The General Assembly met their session deadline and Governor Rauner signed a Fiscal Year 2019 state budget that holds positives for Illinois State students, faculty and staff members.
The spending plan includes an FY19 operating appropriation of $66.3 million, a 2 percent or $1.3 million increase over Illinois State’s FY18 amount. Although the FY19 budget represents the second smallest state appropriation in two decades, excluding the budget impasse years, I appreciate the efforts of the governor and legislature to act in a timely manner and provide a source of predictable public support.
The budget also includes nearly $66 million in capital funding, with almost $62 million targeted for the Fine Arts Complex construction and renovation project. Although that money has been appropriated, it has not yet been released, so we continue to wait to begin a project that has been on hold for a half-decade.
Meanwhile, we are also very optimistic about the fall 2018 enrollment outlook. With students back on campus and classes in full swing, the numbers of admitted students and enrollment deposits are both up 9 percent over last year. While the official enrollment numbers are not reported for a couple of weeks, we anticipate a substantial freshman class with total enrollment of over 20,750. Our staff members from Enrollment Management, Admissions, Housing, Financial Aid, University College, Registrar and others have been working tirelessly to recruit a strong class during a period of unprecedented, out-of-state student migration.
Earlier this year, there were a few statewide media reports focusing on significant enrollment declines at many Illinois public universities, and because our fall 2017 freshman enrollment declined slightly after three straight years of record numbers—ISU was unfairly lumped in with a few of those stories.
But the fact is—over the last eight years, Illinois State’s total enrollment has averaged 20,833 students, and those numbers represent a pattern of strength and stability that simply can’t be found at most universities in Illinois.
Our enrollment is strong; classrooms, laboratories and studios are consistently full; and our campus housing is at or near capacity. Illinois State responded to the financial demands of a two-year budget impasse, leaving unfilled more than 120 administrative-related vacancies; curtailing equipment, travel and professional development expenditures; and pushing back the timelines of construction and deferred maintenance projects.
The University has not been forced to lay off or furlough faculty and staff members or reduce academic programs and staff support. Meanwhile, the University’s six-year graduation rate remains at 73 percent, among the top 10 percent in the nation. In addition, Illinois State’s student loan default rate stands at 3 percent, compared to a national average of 11.5 percent. Illinois State also remains affordable, with a tuition, fee, room and board package that places the University at the lower end of the Illinois public university investment scale.
Illinois State accomplishes all of this despite being funded at the Illinois Board of Higher Education-reported level of $3,551 per full time-equivalent (FTE) student, 45 percent lower than the overall state average of $6,579. By comparison, the University of Illinois system funding level per FTE student is almost double at $7,047. It is also important to note that 97 percent of Illinois State students are from Illinois. Literally, our students are being punished for the University’s success.
It would be inappropriate to suggest that the formula for funding public higher education in Illinois should be modified because there is no discernable formula. The model seems to be based on a decades-old system that plugs in new financial recommendations based upon the previous year’s data without regard to institutional success or failure.
This year, I will make it a priority to request that lawmakers join with the higher education community to discuss a fair and appropriate funding formula for Illinois colleges and universities. I will also ask for the timely release of capital funds so critically needed construction and deferred maintenance projects can begin.
If you would like to join me in communicating these requests to your state representative or senator, you can find their contact information at http://www.ilga.gov/ or https://www.elections.il.gov/DistrictLocator/DistrictOfficialSearchByAddress.aspx.
Please let them know that Illinois State is among the most successful public universities in the state and deserves fair funding and capital resources. Please also remember to thank them for their service to the state and to your communities.
The Illinois State University alumni force is nearly 215,000 strong, and your voices matter. Again, thank you for your continuing support, and I look forward to seeing you on campus and at alumni events throughout the state and country.
Thank you, and GO REDBIRDS!
Larry H. Dietz