During his State of the University Address, President Larry Dietz emphasized Illinois State University’s continued strong enrollment, stable financial outlook, and unwavering dedication to student success. Dietz thanked the Illinois State community for its role in those achievements and outlined initiatives for the 2018-2019 academic year.

Illinois State’s freshman enrollment is the second largest in two-and-a-half decades, with 3,689 freshmen on campus for the fall 2018 semester. Thirty-four percent of freshmen come from traditionally underrepresented groups. The University saw a 38 percent increase in African American freshmen and a 31 percent jump in Latino/a freshmen.

“Through a variety of programs and initiatives, and the passionate involvement of many areas of campus, we are making this institution a more inclusive and welcoming environment, and this year’s enrollment is a reflection of those efforts,” said Dietz.

Total enrollment remains strong at 20,635 students, continuing a steady enrollment trend for Illinois State, even during a challenging time for public universities in Illinois. Dietz said he is also encouraged that Illinois State has a full fiscal year budget following a protracted state budget impasse. The University’s 2018-2019 operating appropriation is $66.3 million, a 2 percent or $1.3 million increase over the University’s FY18 appropriation.

Illinois State’s enrollment, financial situation, and ongoing success help it stand out among public universities in Illinois. “ISU also remains affordable, with a tuition, fee, and room and board package that places the University in the lower half of the Illinois college investment scale,” said Dietz. “At the same time, the University distributed $45 million in need-and merit-based aid last year to make attendance more affordable for our students with financial need.

Dietz announced new financial aid measures to make attending Illinois State even more affordable, accessible, and attractive to prospective students. In association with Illinois’ AIM High initiative, the new Redbird Scholarship program adds an additional $4 million to assist students. Beginning with this fall’s application process, all students with a high school grade point average of at least 3.0 and an ACT of 25 or SAT of 1210, will automatically qualify for a Redbird Scholarship of at least $1,000 and as much as $4,000 per academic year.

Five students from McLean County will be awarded up to four years of free tuition through the McLean County Full Tuition Scholarship, based on the student’s leadership, community service, and civic engagement. In addition, every McLean County student who applies for the competition will automatically receive a one-time $500 scholarship to Illinois State just for participating. A new Alumni Legacy Scholarship will provide undergraduate students who have a parent or grandparent who graduated from Illinois State a $500 scholarship each year for up to four years.

“Illinois State has been fully invested in our students with the greatest financial need, and we will continue to provide nearly $13 million in ISU Access Grants annually to serve students from families with the lowest income levels,” said Dietz. “Combined with MAP and Pell grants, these students generally pay little or nothing in tuition and fee dollars. In fact, the combination even covers a portion of the student’s housing charges.”

Meeting with lawmakers to advocate for a true formula for funding public higher education will continue to be a priority for Dietz in the coming year. He pointed out that Illinois State is in the position of being very successful, but receiving only $3,551 of state funding per full-time equivalent student, which is 45 percent lower than the overall state average of $6,579.

“One of my many goals for this year is to convince our state government leaders that true performance-based funding is funding that rewards high-performing universities—those that enroll students who persist, graduate, and get the jobs that make them tax-paying Illinois citizens,” said Dietz. “In my five years of attending House and Senate higher education appropriation hearings, my testimony has never included a request for greater and greater amounts of funding. What I have always respectfully requested is a fair, equitable, and predictable formula for the state to support its public universities.”

Private fundraising benefits student scholarships, faculty and staff, programs, research, technology, and facilities. Illinois State recently had its second-highest fundraising year on record, with more than $21.9 million in private support. Through the Redbirds Rising comprehensive campaign, more than 45,000 donors have already contributed over $123 million in gifts and commitments since the campaign’s quiet phase began in July 2013. Dietz said University Advancement leadership and staff are working diligently to meet and even surpass the goal of $150 million.

This academic year marks the implementation of Illinois State’s revised strategic plan Educate · Connect · Elevate. The strategic directions for the plan include Enhance Strength and Stability, Foster Innovation, Nurture Diversity and Inclusion, and Enrich Engagement. Two additional core values of Collaboration and Respect were also added. In addition to the new strategic plan, University leaders will implement new and enhanced campus diversity and inclusion initiatives.

“We have also initiated a process to establish a multicultural center on campus,” said Dietz.  “Representatives from the offices of the Vice President for Student Affairs, Vice President of Finance and Planning, and University Advancement have formed a group including students, faculty, and staff to research successful multicultural centers at other universities and establish best practices for a center at ISU.”

Other initiatives include enhanced web and print promotion of scholars and students of color; more gender-inclusive facilities; expanded services to better fit students’ cultural, religious, or medical dietary needs; and a program through Student Counseling Services that provides a safe and supportive space for students of color to process, discuss, and give voice to the wide range of concerns.

“As we continue to plan our work and work our plan, you can be proud that each member of our campus is a reflection of Illinois State’s core values, and each one of us contributes to making diversity and inclusion a priority,” said Dietz.