President John G. Peters charted Northern Illinois University’s course toward the future today, calling for enrollment growth to 30,000 by 2020, attracting more high-performing students and increasing the university’s dedication to hands-on learning that prepares students to be leaders after college.
Those were among the highlights of Peters’ 12th State of the University address, which laid out the goals established by the university’s Vision 2020 Initiative. That year-long undertaking compelled the university to measure itself against other schools, define strengths to build upon and identify weaknesses to address.
The ultimate goal of the plan is to make NIU the most student-centered public research university in the Midwest.
More than 100 faculty, staff, students and alumni benchmarked NIU against similar universities around the region and across the country and then devised the goals, which were then made available to the university community for comment.
Peters acknowledged that it will be a challenge to carry out the bold initiatives he endorsed, especially in difficult economic times, but said doing so is necessary.
“This is a turning point in our history. We are in the midst of a tremendously challenging era, but it also presents us with a tremendous opportunity,” Peters said. “We must take our destiny into our own hands; otherwise, events and institutions beyond our community will determine our fate for us.
“In hardship, you either shrink or grow,” he added. “We choose to grow.”
One of the most ambitious goals in the plan calls for growing university enrollment to 30,000 students, or more by 2020. That is an increase of more than 25 percent over this year.
The substantial increase in enrollment is necessary to generate revenue that will support many of the other Vision 2020 initiatives designed to improve the academic climate at the university. That income will be important in an era when state support for higher education appears destined to continue dwindling, Peters said.
Much of that growth will be generated by increasing the number of students enrolled on NIU’s main campus, seeking a traditional four-year college experience, Peters said. He established a target of 27,500 students on campus by 2020.
The university also can make substantial strides in enrollment by better serving the market of students looking to earn degrees through classes offered at the university’s outreach centers and other off-site locations, and by dramatically increasing its online degree programs, he said.
To fuel that enrollment growth, Peters announced that, NIU will provide $3 million in one-time grants over the next two years to faculty who develop new academic initiatives designed to enhance programs that attract more students.
Other goals included:
- Improving student retention. Another key to growing enrollment will be improving student retention by 50 percent, through programs targeted at helping academically viable students navigate various hurdles.
- Improving the academic profile. By 2020, NIU plans to double the number of incoming students who were in the top 10 percent of their class, and increase the percentage who were in the top quartile of their class to 40 percent.
- Increasing scholarship support. One way NIU will attract more top students is by doubling the amount of funding for merit-based scholarships to $10 million a year – primarily through private fundraising efforts.
- Expanding “value-added” learning. NIU will strive to provide every student with at least one academic enrichment program – whether it be by getting more students to study abroad (a targeted increase 25 percent), graduate from the honors program (targeted increase 50 percent) or by increasing the number of learning opportunities that allow students to engage in real world projects.
- Stimulating research. NIU will provide seed money of $1 million to support innovative research proposals, with priority given to those that help attract competitive grants or grow enrollment.
- Improving campus. Over the next two years, NIU will commit an additional $4 million to beautifying campus, addressing serious infrastructure issues and enhancing technology – particularly wireless Internet connectivity.
Peters will present the Vision 2020 goals to the NIU Board of Trustees later this month, seeking its endorsement of the plan that has been laid out. If the board supports the plan, the university will begin devising specific implementation and measurement plans.