As we move into the start of a new semester, we will see the beginning of a new administration in Springfield. It will be the newly elected Gov. Rauner’s turn to develop a game plan to address the financial opportunities and challenges facing the state.
There has already been a good deal of speculation about the fate of higher education funding in the new budget, but at this stage it is exactly that – speculation. It will likely be a long legislative session and many proposals we be presented and considered. That said, we have been preparing fiscal scenarios to address potential reductions of support.
I am confident that the budget discipline and systems we have put in place over the past year focused on both revenue enhancement and cost reductions put us in a good position to deal with emerging budget contingencies. As we learn more in this process we will communicate developments on a timely basis with all of our stakeholders.
Our concern regarding state support again highlights the need to build an approach to enrollment and retention that will enable us to control our own destiny. For the first time ever, public colleges and universities across the country are receiving less of their total funding from states than revenue from students, according to a recently released United States Government Accountability Office report. We have to accept that a greater percentage of our operating resources will come from tuition, fees and board, which means that our future relies on our ability to resume an enrollment growth trajectory.
This means working on a number of fronts, some of which are already moving forward:
- Retention strategies. At a number of levels – academic affairs, our colleges and departments within our colleges – we are upping our game at understanding and being sensitive to challenges our individual students are having in dealing with student life or academic issues. Programs like MAP-Works, which help students start on the right track by identifying strengths and possible challenges as well as related campus resources, are giving pertinent faculty and staff an early warning system and time to intervene with students. We expect monitoring and corrective action programs such as this will help us continue to raise our retention rate after improving 5 percent last year.
- Enhanced enrollment initiatives. Before the end of the year, we retained the enrollment consulting and marketing firm of Lipman Hearne, which immediately went to work with Vice President Eric Weldy’s team to support our effort to redesign our approach to enrollment management, starting with a late push to pursue additional students for the spring semester. We especially made a push to bring back those students who had left us in good standing and for whatever reason are currently not enrolled at another school. We believe that our ability to reach out to this segment of the student population, as well as our enhanced ability to segment other potential populations, will better position us for our 2015-16 enrollment efforts.
- Program prioritization. I reported to you before the beginning of the year on our program prioritization initiative – a proven process that is aimed at maximizing the impact of our institutional program portfolio across academic and administrative programs while ensuring alignment with NIU’s vision, mission and strategic framework. We will soon be identifying members of two task forces – one to review academic programs and the other to review administrative programs – and refining criteria for these task force members to use in conducting peer review of all of our programs. Program prioritization is a reflection of our mission, strategic planning and triangle offense as it seeks to more firmly link our students, faculty and engagement activities with the outside world. This is key to both twin objectives of enrollment and retention.
We know that overcoming these challenges will not be easy. But at NIU, we have the talent and creativity to be successful. Through teamwork and dedication, we can reach our shared goal of becoming the most student-centered public research university we can be.
To our shared success!