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President Baker emails university community on state budget

November 4, 2015
NIU President Doug Baker

NIU President Doug Baker

NIU President Doug Baker sent this message today to members of the university community.

The ongoing standoff over the state budget has raised concerns about the status of the state’s public colleges and universities. Let me assure you that no matter what you have heard or read, NIU will be open and continue to aggressively pursue our student-centered and research-focused public university agenda throughout the rest of this fiscal year which ends on June 30th, whether or not there is agreement on a budget by the state legislature and Governor. The hard work done over the last two years to create a more mission-focused NIU budget and to improve NIU’s resource allocation process has been successful in preparing us to deal with the current challenges arising from the lack of appropriated funds from the state. Our financial resources are sufficient for us to continue our critical work: to teach, to pursue scholarship and creative activities, to provide support and public service, to prepare and graduate students and in turn, to enroll new students for the coming year. We are committed to providing our current students, faculty, and staff with the resources and support they need to succeed.

Having said that, the lack of a state budget and related Monetary Award Program (MAP) funding has created a very uncertain fiscal future for our students who rely on the MAP Grants to help pay for their education. NIU, like many colleges and universities in the state, is temporarily crediting MAP obligations for our students during the fall semester, and we will extend the MAP credit to our qualifying students into the spring semester should the state budget stalemate extend beyond the first of the calendar year. It is our belief that the state legislature and Governor, who have proclaimed their support for MAP Grants, will ultimately fund this program and allow us to offset the temporary crediting of the recipients’ accounts.

I’d also like to put into context Moody’s Investors Services’ decision last week to downgrade the bond rating for several Illinois universities, including NIU. The Moody’s report cites the current state budget impasse among its rationale for the downgrade and negative outlook. However, the report also mentioned some of the university’s positive assets and resources, including:

  • The university’s scale of operation, existing financial resources and role of as one the state’s largest regional public universities with diverse academic offerings;
  • New university leadership who have instituted financial and strategic initiatives focused on review of the university’s academic and administrative programs (Program Prioritization) with the goals of aligning NIU’s mission and budget, improving efficiency and service, and enhancing opportunities for growth and innovation;
  • Coordination of a large outreach program bringing courses, workshops and degree programs to regional sites based on student demand and local needs; and
  • The university’s service to more than 70,000 individuals who participate in non-credit and/or conference activities.

Holmes Student Center in fallWhile attention has been focused on Springfield and the lack of movement on the budget, we do need keep in mind that funding from the state accounts for approximately 20 percent of NIU’s overall operating budget. The remainder of our budget – a full 80 percent – comes from tuition, fees and other revenues. Given the increasing percentage of our revenue coming from sources other than Springfield, it is particular crucial that we remain focused on the objective of increasing enrollment by increasing both recruitment and retention of students.

Speaking of recruitment, I am very encouraged by the number of prospective students and families who plan to attend our Admissions Open House events this fall. We had 2,300 guests visit campus during last month’s open house and more than 400 filled out applications on the spot during the day of the event.  We anticipate more than 2,500 visitors for our upcoming open house on Saturday, November 14.

Students and their families recognize the importance, value and quality of an NIU education, and how an NIU degree helps chart the course toward career success. We remain hopeful that our state government leaders will arrive at a budget agreement in the next few months. In the meantime, we will continue to fulfill our mission, working hard to provide the best possible environment and resources to enable the success of students, faculty and staff, and to serve the citizens of our region, state and beyond.