Center for the Performing Arts – Thursday, September 27, 2012
Thank you Dan—and thank you to everyone for taking time out of your busy schedules today to be here today.
In some ways, it seems as if the month of July 2003 was an eternity ago. In many other ways, I feel like the time has passed in the blink of an eye.
July 2003 was the month and year that I was named Interim President of Illinois State University—so the calendar tells me that as of this fall semester, I am beginning my 10th year as your President.
Many of you were not here when I began my tenure as President. When I began my career at Illinois State—some of you weren't even born.
Okay—many of you weren't even born.
But I know that if you ask faculty and staff members who have been at Illinois State University 20 years or more, they will tell you that this is a dramatically changed institution. In just the last decade—our faculty, staff members, students, alumni and external partners have pushed and pulled and nurtured this University to a level that the most seasoned among us might have never imagined.
But we made a decision—a pledge actually—to try to break from the common pack of mid-level universities—to rise above the expected—and to chart a self-determined new course toward excellence. Together, we created a plan, and called it Educating Illinois. It wasn't always easy— but we trusted our plan—and followed it—and in the last decade—we have seen remarkable progress.
If you've ever heard me speak to an audience, you know that I take great pleasure in talking about our shared accomplishments. Over the last decade, we've seen historic highs in both graduation rates and retention rates. The grade point averages and ACT scoring averages of our incoming students also hit all-time highs. We broke the top 100 in the US News & World Report rankings for public universities. We had a seven-year run as one of the top 100 schools nationwide for quality and value.
We now have several academic programs in the nation's top 20, including Accounting, Professional Sales and Actuarial Sciences. We also have nationally ranked programs in Education, Nursing and Economics. Our campus is a national model for the civic engagement of our students.
We are considered a military friendly campus and solidified that commitment two weeks ago in opening a new Military Study Center. We are even a Tree Campus USA—and have earned national and state awards for our sustainability efforts.
As we have elevated our academic enterprise, we have also enhanced our physical space. We have constructed new classroom and laboratory buildings, and have renovated most of our existing facilities. Please note that I said most—we still have promises to keep to our colleagues in Fine Arts and Milner Library, as well as a few other areas.
We have opened a state-of-the-art Student Fitness Center. We have completely remodeled our residence halls and dining centers. And, just six weeks ago, we welcomed 900 new occupants to our first ever private-public student apartment complex.
During the past decade, we've set new standards for private fundraising—gifts that fuel scholarships, drive faculty and staff development opportunities—boost athletics programs and improve facilities and technologies. In just the last eight years, more than $121 million in private gifts have been generated for the University.
Research at Illinois State University is now more prominent and respected than at any time in our history, and we are setting a new standard for quality and quantity. University sponsored projects awarded in FY12 totaled $25.5 million. This represents a 18 percent financial increase over the FY11 adjusted award amount of $21.7 million and a 28 percent increase in the number of awards received. In fact, over the last ten years Illinois State has generated almost a quarter-billion dollars in grants, and more than 100 of our faculty members have reached the million-dollar level in grants received.
In a nutshell, this is a very different campus than it was 10 years ago. Each of you can and should be proud of our achievements.
But as the 2012 academic year unfolds, a new criterion for success has surpassed all others at universities throughout Illinois and across the nation. That characteristic is "financial sustainability."
Clearly, the troubling economy and its impact on Illinois State and every other public institution and agency in the country is not news. We have all had to do more with less. State support in Illinois has evaporated to under 19 percent of operating expenses, and costs that used to be the responsibility of the state have now been placed on our shoulders.
But the phrase "financial sustainability" carries a meaning that reaches far beyond ills that are cured through mere belt-tightening. For some institutions, the words strike at the very heart of economic survival.
In its August 25th edition, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported on an analysis of nearly 1,700 public and private nonprofit colleges, finding that one-third of the institutions have been on an "unsustainable financial path" in recent years, and an additional 28 percent are "at risk of slipping into an unsustainable condition."
While the analysis is drawing a certain amount of criticism and even some skepticism, it's also drawing attention, particularly from the colleges that are considered "at risk." There are public and private Illinois universities on the list. I'm happy to tell you today that Illinois State University is not among them. The analysis concludes that Illinois State is a "financially sound institution." Not the highest praise I have ever heard—but given the context of the article and the choppy waters we've been navigating—it's a compliment.
Even more tangible positive financial news for Illinois State comes from Moody's Investors Service, which earlier confirmed Illinois State's A-2 bond rating with a stable outlook. Not all public universities in Illinois enjoy that rating, but Moody's says the mark reflects Illinois State's established student demand with steady enrollment, favorable operating performance and debt service coverage.
Illinois State has benefitted through adherence to our strategic plan and our commitment to conservative spending. We have advanced because of our popularity among high-achieving students. We have capitalized on our low debt level. Illinois State has not resorted to layoffs and furlough days. We have not shuttered residence halls due to a lack of students. We have not strangled faculty and staff development or disconnected from current technology.
Illinois State is—to use that most poetic phrase—"financially sustainable."
Still, the economic threats on our near horizon are very real. The FY2013 state appropriation for Illinois State University totals $74.1 million—which is $4.8 million or 6.07 percent less than last fiscal year. This year's state appropriation is equivalent to the state funding we received in 1997.
Meanwhile, the Governor and legislative leaders continue to grapple with Illinois' pension crisis. Last month, the Governor warned that if comprehensive pension reform is not enacted, funding for state universities, community colleges and college scholarships for needy students with merit could be reduced by more than $280 million over the next five fiscal years.
Under one model, employer pension contributions would be shifted away from the state and onto public universities. Illinois State's appropriation would be reduced to $63.6 million by FY2018. That figure equals the same state funding our University received way back in 1989.
Whether the numbers coming out of Springfield are scare tactics, or a grim forecast, it's clear to me that the de-prioritization of public higher education in Illinois will continue.
What cannot continue in Illinois are steep tuition increases to offset the lack of state support. New students to Illinois State this fall paid just 4.4 percent more in tuition than did new students in the fall of 2011. When you add in room and board, the 2012 student tab was only $760 more than the total package in 2011.
Meanwhile, Illinois State has stepped up its assistance to students and their families as they make the critical investment in higher education. This year, the ISU Access grant program will supplement the state's Monetary Awards Program with $9 million dollars. Merit-based scholarship dollars have increased to $2.6 million for FY2013, up almost 100 percent over five years ago. And there are more than 600 scholarships funded by gifts to the University's Foundation—in part—through your personal generosity.
Right now, Illinois State students graduate with an average of about $22,000 in school-related debt—well below state and national averages—and far from some of the debt horror stories you see in the news media.
We must continue to honor their investment with the very best in teaching and service. In the end, our ability to provide a premier experience to our students has made us popular—and it will keep us sustainable.
Illinois State is and has been in an enviable position relative to other public universities in Illinois and nationally over the past 10 years. We've managed to thrive during this period in spite of the continued weak economy.
Due to the commitment and efforts of the entire campus community, our reputation for quality has risen, while that of many of our peers and competitors has stagnated or fallen. For our hard work, we can all be proud.
However, as I have noted today and elsewhere, we must face the fact that the fiscal environment for public higher education in Illinois and nationally is not likely to improve in the near future and most certainly will never return to past levels of support on either the operating or capital side of our budget. The financial and budgetary issues facing our state are too significant and it seems probable that in at least one of these areas – pension reform – public universities will be required to share in the pain in implementing a solution.
Add to that a declining number of high school graduates, changing demographics, and increasing competition from both traditional and non-traditional higher education providers from within and outside of Illinois, and it becomes clear that our future world will be dramatically different from that of our past.
Today, I'm directing Provost Everts and Vice President Layzell to work together this academic year in consultation with Vice Presidents Minne' and Dietz, and with input from the campus community, to develop a new long-range financial plan that insures the continued quality, strength and viability of the University in these uncertain and turbulent times. I will make no preconceptions about what this plan will look like, but I do know what it must accomplish. It will:
A thoughtful, creative plan that builds on our strengths and responds to the changing landscape will allow us to continue to thrive for many, many years.
Our advantage today is that we are planning from a position of strength and stability rather than weakness, which is why I believe it's critically important for us to be proactive rather than reactive in response to our changing environment.
In the meantime, I will continue to do my best to invest in you. When I became Interim President in 2003, I promised that competitive faculty and staff compensation would be among my top priorities. There has been just one year during the last nine when I wasn't able to offer even a small salary increase. And although it will be modest, our faculty and staff members will be eligible for a merit-based salary increase again this year.
I have asked our finance leadership to increase the University's personal services budget by 2 percent for a merit raise program that would be effective with the end of December pay periods and retroactive to July 1, though the retroactive pay amount will likely not be made until January pay periods.
Although this struggling economy has forced us to readjust our compensation goals, we have made up some ground against peer institution salaries. In several classifications, we meet or exceed comparison group compensation averages.
Our investment in you has yielded excellent returns in the form of highly talented and motivated students and top-notched faculty and support staff members.
For the 16th consecutive year, Illinois State University's total fall enrollment remains above 20,000. Last year's 20-year enrollment high left us just a bit swollen—with some faculty and advisors scrambling to match students with just the right classes, and our Housing staff reconfiguring residence halls to accommodate the added numbers. This year, we matched our comfort zone target of 20,500 students.
As you have no doubt seen in news media reports, most Illinois public universities were not nearly as fortunate, with some reporting three-digit enrollment declines for several consecutive years.
Illinois State not only met its target number, but academic quality remains high. The average ACT score remains near 24, with an average high school grade point average of 3.37. Diversity also increased with the new freshman class. Students from underrepresented groups comprise 21.6 percent – up from 18.9 last year. Over the last five years, our enrollment has averaged more than 20,700—our ACT average is exactly 24 and the retention rate average is 84.1 percent.
That all sounds impressive, but I want to take just a moment to share with you some results of a college completion analysis from the Chronicle of Higher Education using their most recent data. Illinois State's graduation rate of 71 percent put the University ahead of every public college campus in Illinois except one, meaning our graduation rate also surpassed two of U of I's campuses. We were at least 9.5 percent ahead of the closest Illinois directional school competitor.
In addition, just nine percent of all four-year public colleges in the country met or exceeded our graduation rate. From 2002 to 2010, Illinois State's graduation rate rose a remarkable 13.7 percent. For that achievement— our Enrollment and Admissions staff, faculty, support staff members and students deserve a hearty round of applause.
Our student's remarkable academic talent is equaled by their sense of civic responsibility to the University community, greater McLean County, our home state, the United States and even around the world. Illinois State remains among the few public universities in the country and the first in Illinois to offer a Civic Engagement and Responsibility minor.
We were among the first colleges nationwide to participate in the American Democracy Project and its spin-off Political Engagement Project—and we have been honored nationally for our efforts. This year, Illinois State has been selected as one of just 25 institutions in the country as a lead institution in Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement.
Illinois State will serve as a national model for universities—that in all humility—want to be more like us, and establish or expand civic engagement offerings on their campuses.
Meanwhile, Illinois State begins the second year of its ISU LEADS program—a comprehensive leadership-based initiative that allows students to qualify for a certificate in leadership to complement their academic degrees.
Through programs like Alternative Breaks and Bring it Back to Normal, students last year contributed more than 11,000 hours of service to the community, state, nation and beyond. Our student athletes perform on the field and off, contributing thousands of hours of community service through programs determined by the teams of every Redbird sport.
During this fall semester, students in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders will complete a community-based service learning project to further their knowledge of emergent literacy development while simultaneously providing needed services for local low-income families with preschool-aged children. And just three weeks ago, The ISU-IWU Habitat for Humanity chapter broke ground for its 19th home.
This afternoon, we're joined by students and their faculty and staff mentors from Alternative Breaks, Bring It Back to Normal, Redbird Athletics and Habitat for Humanity. Could all of you please stand so we can recognize your remarkable accomplishments?
Thank you. The relationship between our students, staff and faculty has impacts far beyond the boundaries of our campus—but it is a partnership that begins in the classroom with a curious student and a committed teacher. I talk to alumni from Chicago to Beijing and the stories I hear share a consistent theme—our students may be the faces and voices of Illinois State, but our faculty and staff members are this University's heart and soul. Behind almost every alumni success story there is a grateful student, and that gratitude is the product of the highest quality teaching and most caring support.
Recent examples include Daniel Breyer and Gina Hunter, who just last month were named the first recipients of the newly established Kenneth A. and Mary Ann Shaw Teaching Fellowship at Illinois State. Dr. Breyer, an assistant professor of philosophy, plans to use the award to start a religious studies faculty forum and organize a religious studies conference.
Dr. Hunter, an associate professor of sociology/anthropology, will work with faculty, students and alumni on the Old Main Project, analyzing and collecting the history of Illinois State's first building, which stood for a century before being razed in 1958.
Com 110 Instructor Christine Bruckner incorporated political and civic engagement into her classroom in several ways. Her students completed a service project which assisted a family in Normal who lost their home to a fire. Her students created a campaign to teach their fellow students about the importance of renters insurance, and also raised funds to help the family.
Erika Hunt, who is with the University's Center for the Study of Education Policy, announced the College of Education is a partner in a $15 million national, grant-funded program for early childhood education. The Center will provide guidance to six school districts in three states, which work to give children a fluid transition from early childhood education to the regular classroom.
David Loomis, our director of the Center for Renewable Energy, drew national attention this summer with a study showing Illinois' 23 largest wind farms have generated more than 19,000 jobs and will add $5.8 billion to local economies over the lifetime of the projects.
And also this summer, our newest Distinguished Professor, James Skibo, lead a team of students who were the first to unearth a new archeological site in Michigan, offering new insights into more than 4,000 years of human history.
I also want to recognize the work of the General Education Task Force. Initiated by Provost Everts late in 2010, the task force met over 18 months to assess the current General Education program, review the program's broad goals, specific learning outcomes and structure. The task force held four campus-wide forums to solicit additional feedback and submitted its recommendation to the Provost this past May.
Implementation planning for those recommendations will begin this fall through our shared governance process for curriculum, beginning with the Council for General Education and University Curriculum Committee and ending with discussion at the Academic Senate. I would like to acknowledge the Task Force's Co-Chairs, Claire Lamonica and James Palmer. Thank you for your leadership of this important review.
Innovation in teaching, research, and campus operations are the hallmarks of Illinois State University. You can see it in every academic college, department and school. You can see pedagogical innovation being nurtured and enhanced in the Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology. You can witness innovations in research every day from the Science Laboratory Building on the east side of campus to the Special Education Assistive Technology Center on the west.
This fall, Illinois State embarks on a technological innovation with its LEAP Forward project—and we ask for your help in shaping the way the University interacts with students through technology.
LEAP Forward—by the way—LEAP stands for Lean Enterprise Architecture and Processes— is a five-year initiative to replace our academic IT infrastructure used for such things as admissions, financial aid, grade reporting, student billing and records, as well a host of other applications.
The LEAP Forward team is seeking the input of students, faculty, staff members and others who regularly interact with student-related information systems on campus. I hope that you will play an active part in this innovative process by participating in focus groups this semester. The input from those sessions and from our surveys of campus constituencies will help drive the redesign of our current student information systems.
Innovation in campus management and construction is evident across campus with the new Cardinal Court Apartment Complex, which opened to its first 900 students last month. Cardinal Court was designed and built, and is operated without putting added financial stress on the University, its students or Illinois taxpayers. The complex offers the amenities that I am sure most of us never saw during our college days—but importantly, it adds the protections and nurturing environment found at our traditional residence halls.
Construction innovation is in progress right now at Hancock Stadium. Last year, I used this forum to announce a $20-to-$25 million renovation of our University's most visual front door. That project is underway, financed through existing student fees, gifts from alumni, corporate stakeholders and friends.
Shortly after announcing the initiative last September, I commissioned a study to measure Hancock Stadium's economic impact on the surrounding community. The study was performed by Illinois State Economics professor Sherrilyn Billger and Frank Beck, the director of the Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development. Their results were impressive.
Hancock Stadium has a $4.1 million annual impact on the local economy, making it a significant economic engine in the Bloomington-Normal community. In one year alone, Hancock Stadium played host to more than 60 university and community events, from the Illinois Special Olympics to intercity football contests to city recreational leagues.
In addition to the thousands of event participants, the activities brought tens of thousands of spectators. As I said last year, we all need Hancock Stadium to reflect the excellence and growing reputation of Illinois State. The University deserves it, the community deserves it and Redbird Athletics deserves it.
Despite ongoing construction at Hancock, tailgating continues outside the stadium and exciting Redbird football continues inside. The Birds are 4 and 0 heading into South Dakota this weekend before returning next weekend for a Homecoming matchup against Southern Illinois. Redbird Athletics has given all of us a lot to cheer about this past year.
Exciting runs in men's and women's basketball were capped by Illinois State receiving top Missouri Valley program honors in the Learfield Director's Cup. Redbird Athletics won four conference championships and five coaches earned Coach of the Year Honors.
You may have never seen a javelin competition in your life—but one of our students, Tim Glover, is the best in the country in throwing one—and this year, he won his second consecutive national championship.
If you haven't seen him in competition, I at least want you to meet him in person—Tim could you please stand and take a bow?
I also want you know that with a little help from their coaching and staff mentors, Redbird Athletes lit it up in the classroom as well as on the field of play.
Our student athletes posted a cumulative Grade Point Average of 3.15 and 70 scored a perfect 4.0.
Just as I hope you will support Redbird Athletics, I hope you will also take part in the full spectrum of academic, cultural and social opportunities Illinois State is offering this year. The Fall Speakers Series continues this evening—it is a series that offers 11 opportunities this semester to hear from and meet in-person some of the most innovative people in the country.
In our own College of Fine Arts, the University Galleries continues its celebration of the Studio Glass Movement, the School of Theater and Dance is offering several performances and the School of Music is scheduling concerts and recitals, and I know they will welcome your attendance this fall.
And of course, a full slate of Homecoming 2012 activities begins next week. During my nine years as President, I have watched as Illinois State Homecoming has transformed from a nice weekend to the must-attend celebration of the semester, bringing the extended University family to campus to rekindle old memories and create new ones.
I want to conclude my remarks today by reminding everyone that we are in the home stretch of the revision process for our most important strategic planning document, Educating Illinois. Over the past two weeks, the Educating Illinois task force has sponsored two well-attended public forums. Draft print versions of Educating Illinois have been distributed throughout the campus and you can also review and comment on the draft on the Educating Illinois web site. Educating Illinois is not only Illinois State's shared vision for the University, its creation represents one of the truest examples of shared governance on this or any college campus.
Finally, I close this address in gratitude for everything you do to make my service to Illinois State such a fulfilling experience. Linda and I have literally immersed ourselves in this job and we derive a great deal of personal satisfaction from the University's many successes.
I'm grateful to our governing board, the Board of Trustees of Illinois State University, the Academic Senate, our employee councils and student leaders. Your advice and wise counsel is always welcome and deeply appreciated.
Ten years ago, few could have predicted that this University would be where it is today. Thank you for joining me on this journey and for your continuing support and friendship.