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Peters briefs Board of Trustees on Vision 2020, ‘much … accomplished, challenges lie ahead’

September 20, 2012
John G. Peters

John G. Peters

NIU President John G. Peters this morning updated the Board of Trustees on the university’s Vision 2020 Initiative.

Intended to secure NIU as the most student-centered public research university in the Midwest by 2020 and beyond, the blueprint represents an extensive benchmarking effort with input from across campus on academic excellence, campus improvements and fiscal sustainability.

“NIU’s future success will be measured by the life-changing experiences we provide to our students,” Peters said. “The ‘value added’ to outcomes by academic enrichment programs and engaged learning opportunities will yield more critical thinking, greater creativity and enhanced communication skills that will set our graduates – and our institution – apart.”

The university is also committed to keeping those top students in the service region after they graduate, he said.

“We have set aggressive goals that perhaps go against national trends, but we aspire for greater things. This year our recruitment efforts have seen a turnaround in new freshmen, halting a recent trend and putting our institution in the positive,” the president said.

Yet “there is much work to do,” he added. “We need to continue to focus on attracting growing new freshmen classes and double-down on transfer recruiting, which is a traditional strength for us. And we need to make sure our students succeed. We need to continue to offer graduate programs that meet the needs of our region and identify and recruit top undergraduates to pursue even higher knowledge.”

Vision 2020 logoWork already has begun, according to Peters.

“We are transforming the way we deliver knowledge to our students, especially in the way large classes are taught,” he said. “Significant grant support has helped restructure large lecture hall classes to include media-rich interactive activities and small group experiential learning that emphasizes relationships with faculty and peers.”

The efforts of faculty members also are being recognized concerning their level of engagement with students, something added to the Academic Policies and Procedures Manual last year as a component of of the University Workload Policy.

Research Rookies program is providing freshman a head start in this type of engagement.

Program participation has more than doubled since the program’s inception, and in addition to developing mentoring relationships with faculty, staff and upperclassmen, participants receive a stipend after successful completion.

Meanwhile, the university is well on its way to toward the Vision 2020 goal is to boost the number of graduates of the University Honors Program by 50 percent. The program has soared more than 25 percent over the past two years alone, and the participants are more diverse than ever.

Honors also drove growth of the university’s strong incoming class in terms of both numbers and academic credentials, with its largest class since 1987. The new honors freshmen boast an average ACT score of 29 and high school GPA of 3.94, while the 96 transfer students check in with a 3.66 GPA on average.

“The strength of NIU’s incoming freshman class is not just reflected in its numbers, but also in its high school class rank and grade point average,” Peters said. “The Fall 2012 numbers reflect greater confidence in the academic and social advantages of life at NIU’s DeKalb campus and the emphasis we have put on our honors program, engaged learning opportunities and merit scholarships.”

Of course, he said, the university is devoting significant resources to putting students in the best position to succeed.

An NIU geography student works on a lab project outside Wednesday.

An NIU geography student works on a lab project outside Wednesday.

NIU’s Office of Student Academic Success operates MAP-Works (Making Achievement Possible), a program that empowers faculty and staff to positively impact student success and retention by identifying at-risk students early in the term.

It efficiently and effectively provides faculty and staff the information they need to identify and coordinate interventions with at-risk students. Data shows not only higher freshman and transfer retention rate and academic achievement for participants versus non-MAP-Works students, but also a significantly higher retention rate than the overall university population.

Faculty and staff are provided with the right information to focus on the critical issues for each individual student. Faculty and staff can effectively invest their limited time and resources into helping student who display risk factors.

Coordination among individual faculty and staff is critical in helping specific students, and the MAP-Works platform measures impact, ensures accountability and ultimately measures improvements in student success and retention.

Peters also briefed trustees on “distributed learning,” a major ingredient of Vision 2020 that typically refers to online course delivery but also includes other modes such as video-conferencing.

In the past year, NIU’s Distributed Learning Taskforce developed its major goals for a start-up model as well as revenue development and distribution. The program will better serve non-traditional students and also offer a path to degree completion. Curricular and administrative details are in development and can be finalized and fully implemented by Fall 2013.

The economics of the traditional campus-based curriculum are not favorable, particularly with a diminishing pool of public resources.

According to 2011 statistics from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 75 percent of adults believe college is too expensive. The same study found that 57 percent of adults believe the U.S. higher education system fails to provide students with good value for the money.

“Our goal is to provide an affordable way to meet this need and increase delivery of educational units to our region using distributed learning five-fold by 2020, from the current 16,000 credit hours to more than 81,000 credit hours,” Peters said.

Vision 2020 grant seed money will be utilized in developing either a home-grown model or partnering for a turn-key, revenue share model to achieve this goal. Whatever the approach, competing institutions that already scale online delivery to meet the diversity of potential student users are growing in appeal.

Peters addressed several other Vision 2020-related topics:

  • Research. NIU is becoming more competitive by investing in temporary research personnel to accelerate completion of existing research project, new equipment for areas that have the highest probability of attracting research dollars and faculty who have a history of the best propensity to several areas to obtain external funding.
  • Faculty excellence. The university continues to pursue best practices in diversity hiring and retention. Human Resources has been instrumental in delivering incremental salary adjustments during the past year as part of a retention effort. HRS also is conducting a record number of searches and position replacements in the wake of numerous retirements in recent years.
  • Off-campus enrollment. Accelerated growth in NIU’s share of students in the large and growing market of off-campus, part-time, adult learners will depend upon new online delivery modes and new academic programming as well as outreach activities that raise the visibility of engaged learning, engaged research and engaged service opportunities throughout the region. The Division of Outreach and Engagement has piloted a number of initiatives to meet these challenges, including a new online service that allows students from any community college to immediately and easily match courses at their schools with courses at NIU.
  • Technology. NIU is building a 21st century learning experience with wireless communications, smart classrooms and cloud computing capabilities. Through the leaderships of Information Technology Services, wireless coverage for the Fall 2013 semester should include about 60 percent of student life areas, about 70 percent of on-campus housing and 20 percent of instructional spaces, well ahead of the Vision 2020 schedule. ITS also successfully migrated student email to the Google platform, offering access to apps that permit a more collaborative learning environment and cloud printing.