4.9.10

MAKING A VIRTUE OUT OF A NECESSITY.

Northern Illinois president John Peters presented an early State of the University address on Thursday. (In recent years, this speech occurred in late September or sometime in October.)

Apparently one strategic plan is not enough, giving us Vision 2020 ("NIU to set goal of most student-centeredpublic research university in Midwest") We're relatively late to hail this hackney, which to the American Physical Therapy Association is the provision of physical therapist diagnostitians, to the Drexel College of Medicine is tying the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment to proportional representation of women in sciences, or to trashing Sarah Palin. Texas A&M appears to have stolen a march on us, launching a Vision 2020 strategic plan in 1999.

Another initiative calls for another presidential task force. Some of my now-retired colleagues would no doubt see another end run around shared governance. I'm too radioactive for such a task force (Consensus? Collegiality?)

On to the speech.
We are in an era of tremendous change and uncertainty. In terms of student success and fiscal sustainability, the public university model of the 20th century no longer fits.

Nationally, fewer than half of the students who enter college today finish with a degree or credential. Those who do finish take longer, pay more and are saddled with too much debt.
Jonathan Robe at College Affordability will respond.
Third, and finally, my companion [a chance encounter on travel] brought up remedial classes: what on earth, he said, are colleges doing teaching basic mathematics, for instance? He is right. Students should be taking, and mastering, courses on basic algebra or paragraph writing before they start college, not struggle with it during or after (a former law school dean once told me how frustrated he was with the prevalence of poor writing among law students). Diverting scarce resources to remedial education means that there are fewer available to devote to the core courses, the foundation of what the students should be studying. Rather than spoon-feeding under-prepared students through remedial classes, colleges and universities should ensure that their admissions standards are appropriately strict, both in principle and in practice. Students should not be allowed to enroll in college unless and until they have demonstrated satisfactory academic achievement. Once the students are in, schools need to push students harder so that they are adequately prepared for the real world after graduation.
I've disagreed with Charles Murray on how many students, prepared or not, can handle university, encouraged to see headquarters confronting the collapse before it happens, and hope to see more direct measures to get Northern Illinois out of the remediation business in the vision statement.

Back to the speech.
What’s more, in Illinois, the economic model that supported our institution for generations has eroded dramatically.

I am not going to rehash Illinois’ fiscal problems other than to say this: The past decade has demonstrated that we can no longer rely on the state as a stable source of funding for our basic academic mission. We do not have the luxury of dwelling on the past. Leadership demands that we look forward, and it should be apparent to all that we must control our own destiny.

Our students are changing, too.

A growing number bring considerable experience and diverse backgrounds to the classroom. They are transfer students, military veterans, and second-career adults. Many of them balance schoolwork with jobs, commutes to campus and family commitments. Our undergraduate enrollment mix is changing, and in the years to come, it will require us to further augment academic support services.

Finally, we are confronting another major shift in higher education, and it has to do with competition for students.

For most of the past 10 years, there was an abundance of traditional college-bound students. But those days are ending. Over the next decade, the number of Illinois high school graduates is projected to decline by nearly 5 percent.

Meanwhile, there is more competition than ever for those students. It comes from other state schools, from private institutions and community colleges; and from out-of-state.
Multiple targets call for multiple instruments, and economics teaches the importance of tradeoffs.

First, regular readers understand that competition for students implies and is implied by competition by students. The popularity of the U. S. News rankings [completion left as an exercise].

Second, in a reaction to the 2009 speech, I suggested a different imperative in the competition for students.
[Enrollments] help the university service the debt on the arena and the parking deck while they're enrolled, which at least one Cold Spring Shops source suggests is the real reason for those enrollment targets in the mid-twenties.
On Wednesday, a representative from the strategic planning task force for enrollments spoke to the faculty senate.
Senate member Kerry Freedman discussed her report on the strategic plan for enrollment management task force, which is a group in charge with the review of issues facing student enrollment.

"The primary goal of the task force is to set and reach the target of 25,400 students, or 625,000 credit hours," Freedman said.
That's an override of a previous initiative, and it may be overtaken by that decline in high school graduates. The projection (a visual in the speech, not provided in the transcript, possibly available in the webcast, and as far as I know not adjusted for the effect of the Ryan, Blagojevich, and Quinn administrations' policies driving people out of the state) provides for more graduates than were present in the early 1990s, and about the same number as were present in the middle 1990s. A special task force on right-sizing (Nineties-speak for strategic planning) determined that our enrollment target was around 19,000 students. (When I started in 1986, our enrollments were around 24,000, and there were 23 tenure-track faculty in economics. That task force determined our faculty size to be 15 for that 19,000. We are currently nine for the 25,400.)

Further into the speech comes this intriguing paragraph.
Setting goals is just the beginning. The committee will also be charged with developing strategies to reach those goals and identifying funding sources to meet our objectives. This last point is crucial, because the process must help us evolve into a more efficient, fiscally sustainable institution that is less dependent on the State of Illinois.
Our problem is that, although the State of Illinois provides a smaller share of the resources, the legislature and the state board of higher education can object to any degree program or center or anything else that suits them. DePaul or Loyola or Northwestern face no such constraint. Otherwise, much of the speech envisions Large New England Private College With Graduate Degrees.
We aim to make NIU the first choice among talented students in our region. Yet, we are an institution of higher learning, not a publicly traded company. Students are not here simply to purchase a degree and move on. To us at NIU, education is not a commodity and students are not a source of profit.

The NIU experience, the true power of NIU, lies in the transformation our students undergo as a result of their studies here.

It is our duty not only to educate – but also to motivate. We need to pull our students up, not push them out. Yes, we produce accountants, artists, educators, judges, scientists, computer whizzes, medical professionals, public administrators and more.

But our true hallmark is producing problem solvers, global citizens and tomorrow’s leaders.
So far, so standard. In this vision, however, the for-profit diploma mills are not the competition. (Those aren't even ranked by U. S. News, get my drift?)

Headquarters has to come up with a better expression than engaged learning, but check the sentiments.
One of the primary ways we already accomplish this is through engaged learning. I am very proud to say NIU excels in this area – and we are only going to get better.

Research clearly shows that students who are actively involved in both academic and extramural activities gain more from the college experience. Our foundational values--which emphasize teaching, research and regional outreach—serve our students well.
NIU students work alongside faculty investigating new ways to fight disease, creating new teaching and learning strategies, shedding new light on the building blocks of nature, gathering new and critical information on global climate change and helping companies solve real-world problems.

Through internships, study abroad and a multitude of other programs, we continue to increase and enhance opportunities for hands-on learning. These opportunities excite students in ways no textbook can and provide them with experiences they cannot get elsewhere. It sets them apart from their peers and sets us apart from the competition.

Just this past spring, NIU held its first annual Undergraduate Research Day. Nearly 200 student researchers participated. This type of engaged learning is a key component of our identity as a student-centered public research university, and it must be a key component of the Vision 2020 Initiative as well.

We know engaged learning develops better comprehension and critical-thinking skills, but we need to ensure that as many students as possible participate. For example, how many undergraduates should be participating in Research Day next spring . . . or in 2015 . . . or in 2020? What is our goal?
On occasion, there are capstone projects I'd like to see presented in such a forum. Honors projects also deserve more than a passing mention on an April afternoon. On the other hand, there are New England private colleges with more than nine economics professors. Discuss.

There's a great deal of goodwill for the university among prosperous alumni. That goodwill might not be a consequence of athletic success. The conclusion is left as an exercise.

Then there's the public-private partnership to build new housing.
[Trustees] entered into an agreement with the Collegiate Housing Foundation that will allow us to replace existing housing with a new state-of-the-art residential complex for 1,000 students.

Built around a central community center and dining facility, it will be designed to meet the needs of future generations of students. Best of all, all of that will be created with no up-front expense to the university.

It will be our first new undergraduate residential complex in 40 years, and it will incorporate the latest thinking in campus housing design.

This is no idle boast. The new complex will be the first in the nation to use an innovative design concept that divides floors into pods, or neighborhoods, of 12 students.

Each pod will include shared common space for studying and socializing, while providing each student with a private bedroom and bath. It is a concept that we are very excited about, and one that we expect will become a national model.

The complex will be ready to welcome students in the fall of 2012. It will be the centerpiece of a residential renaissance—one that I believe will transform campus life at NIU. Central to that effort will be creating the most attractive, accommodating, accessible, and safe housing in the Midwest.
Not Grandpa's dorm, for sure, and for some of our first-generation collegians, possibly their first bedroom of their own. (And no sexiles. The floor plan might be available from the online broadcast, if that's available.) Will that common space include bookshelves, or Kindle subscriptions? I've got some books, if the former, or can earmark the proceeds from selling the books, if the latter.

Gilbert Hall will be converted from administrative offices back to housing, a development that is likely to please visual and performing arts students.

For the commuters, does Vision 2020 include Metra service, with a train station in the strip mall that contains Molly's and Sgt. Pepper's?

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