Among the topics I addressed at our university town hall meeting last week was enrollment; specifically, what we are doing to stem the reduction of our student population and put us back on a growth trajectory after a 5.5 percent decline this fall. I noted that while some of the issues facing us involve the uncertainty parents and students feel about the future of higher education in the State of Illinois, there are other things that are in our control.
One is ensuring that we are providing our students with unparalleled academic and engaged learning opportunities. Provost Lisa Freeman spoke directly to that, describing our NIU Plus approach to general education, a nationally recognized model that we believe will be very compelling to prospective traditional freshman recruits. We are already working aggressively to raise visibility of NIU Plus with current students, as well as integrating it into conversations our recruiters have at high schools across the state.
So, our Academic Affairs people have provided us with a great program to attract new freshmen. Meanwhile, we know we need to intensify our efforts, not only with our traditional base of freshman students, but with other categories of students, including transfer students, non-traditional students and international students. For each of these segments, we have task forces working on plans to help us get sharper, more focused and more aggressive in our recruitment effort.
Among the things we are already doing is developing ways to more efficiently and effectively link financial aid to student need; intensifying our existing partnerships with community colleges with plans to be on-site at up to six of these colleges by the end of the year; reaching out to the business community to develop relationships that could lead to additional adult learners; and adopting a more unified approach to branding and advertising to drive awareness and interest in NIU.
While we are confident that our effort to expand enrollment will bear fruit, that may take time. And meanwhile, we continue to face an uncertain financial picture in the State of Illinois. As a result, while we’ve cut $45 million out of our operating expenses in three years, we see a need to cut another $20 million during this fiscal year and increase focus on revenue-generating opportunities.
That said, I have asked the Senior Cabinet to provide me with recommended scenarios for cutting five and 10 percent of Division operating budgets to get us to a goal of $20 million. These are to be strategic, long-term cuts designed to ensure our core mission is strong and that the university is financially sustainable. Reductions will not happen across the board, but rather will be tailored to the unique goals and objectives of each unit. I am working with CFO Al Phillips to review the Division recommendations, which will lead to a review by the Executive Budget Committee. We expect to have an action plan ready to roll out in the next six to eight weeks, and we will communicate this plan promptly when it is finalized.
In the coming weeks we’ll keep you informed with status updates. We will also be working to educate the university and community on NIU’s revised Freedom of Expression policy which takes effect this Saturday. The new policy and related procedures are the result of many months of collaboration throughout our university community with the intention and commitment of ensuring that all students, faculty and staff have the broad latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn.