Baker Report: Advocating for investment in higher education

A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute found that high-wage states are overwhelmingly those with a highly educated workforce.
A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute found that high-wage states
are overwhelmingly those with a highly educated workforce.

Presidents, chancellors and board chairs from Illinois’ nine public universities converged on Springfield this week to lobby state leaders on both sides of the aisle to maintain a robust, sustained and predictable level of state support for our universities. NIU was represented by Board of Trustees Chair John R. Butler in this effort.

Not only is state investment important in maintaining college accessibility and affordability, it is absolutely essential for the future well-being and economic prosperity of our state. State universities are leveraging this support by attracting more than $1.2 billion in external funding – dollars that multiply in many ways to support the economy today and that serve to foster innovation and thereby the new businesses and jobs of tomorrow. In fact, a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute found that high-wage states are overwhelmingly those with a highly educated workforce.

Northern Illinois University is a great example of maintaining affordability and value while earning recognition for its return on investment as well as social mobility. NIU’s published cost of attendance (room, board, tuition and fees) was held flat last year and will be reduced by more than $500 for the 2015-16 academic year. We have no plans to revisit this decision in light of budget proposals that include cuts to higher education that range from 6 percent to more than 30 percent.

Among the keys to our ability to deliver value and hold the line on our pricing is cost-containment, both in terms of alignment of resources as well as across all of our employee categories, including our senior leadership. In fact, since July 2013, NIU reduced cabinet level senior administrator salaries by more than $600,000 as compared to full-time salaries prior to my arrival two years ago.

Photo of blue stick figures surrounding a globeWe rely on our faculty and staff to play a key role in helping to connect our students with opportunities for engaged learning, internships and research assignments in our region and around the world. The ability to foster these connections with the outside world is crucial to preparing our students for success as citizens and as productive members of the workforce.

We acknowledge that Illinois faces very difficult challenges but also note that state support is critical to maintaining staffing levels sufficient to accomplish these goals and fulfill our mission.

NIU is working hard to be a good steward of the state’s investment in our students and their tuition dollars while supporting the critical work of our faculty and staff in teaching, research and engagement.

Forward together,

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