NIU joins U of I on accountability-based funding bill

NIU’s Board of Trustees last Thursday approved a plan to join with the University of Illinois on legislation that would tie stable state funding to greater accountability.

Trustees voted unanimously to partner with U of I on the Investment, Performance and Accountability Commitment, or IPAC.  Under the agreement, the state would agree to supply stable funding for five years. In return, the universities would agree to accept measureable accountability standards such as holding down student costs, meeting retention and graduation goals, and providing agreed-upon levels of financial aid to Illinois residents.

“IPAC is an innovative solution to ongoing financial challenges facing the state and its public universities,” said Acting President Lisa Freeman. “The measure would restore stable, dependable state funding for university operations over the next five years and ensure a tangible return by supporting Illinois students and programs that serve the needs of the state.”

“This compact between NIU and the state of Illinois is aimed at both restoring financial stability and boosting confidence in the value of an Illinois public university education,” said Freeman.

“We take seriously our responsibility to be good stewards of public funds, and we welcome the opportunity to show, in a regular and transparent reporting system, how those investments are paying off. For example, NIU has held tuition and fees essentially flat for five consecutive years. Our commitments to affordability and accessibility have benefited the state of Illinois because 95 percent of our students come from Illinois, and 85 percent of NIU graduates remain in the state to pursue careers or advanced study.”

University of Illinois President Tim Killeen said having NIU sign onto the IPAC legislation will strengthen public higher education’s call for an end to more than a decade of declining state funding.

“I am delighted at the prospect of NIU joining us to support this groundbreaking bill,” Killeen said.  “IPAC can provide the resources we need to plan our futures and fulfill our critical roles as engines of progress. Just as importantly, it sets high standards that hold our feet to the fire to repay the state’s investment.”

For NIU, those standards include a promise to not increase the base rate of undergraduate tuition and fees by more than the rate of inflation; to guarantee that at least half of new freshmen would be from underserved populations; that NIU would provide at least 20 percent of its annual state appropriation in financial aid for Illinois residents; that NIU would maintain at least a 75 percent first-to-second-year retention rate and at least a 50 percent six-year graduation rate; and that NIU would provide an annual report card on more than a dozen key quality indicators.

In return, the state would provide a fiscal year 2019 appropriation of $93 million for NIU, and would promise to continue consistent, full funding for five years. IPAC clarifies that appropriations would have to be approved by the legislature and governor each year, but if stable funding is not provided in any year of the agreement, the universities would not be bound by the accountability standards for the following year.

NIU Board of Trustees Chair Wheeler Coleman called IPAC “a move in the right direction.”

“Returning to stable, predictable funding is a critical ingredient for the long-term health of all of Illinois’ public universities,” Coleman said. “We’ve been listening to our governor and legislature, and understand that resource allocations are increasingly coming with calls for greater accountability. NIU is more than up to that challenge:  We’re anxious to tell the story of a university that provides real value to our state.”

NIU is included in revised legislation (HB 5845) introduced last Thursday and sponsored by Rep. Michael Zalewski (D-Riverside). The Senate version is expected to be filed this week by Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago), and supported by a bipartisan coalition of co-sponsors.

“This proposal would provide NIU and the U of I System with much-need, stable funding from the state legislature,” Cunningham said. “But it would also create accountability.  The funding would be tied to performance – and that is the kind of approach that is necessary given the state’s difficult budget situation.”

“I was pleased to hear that NIU has joined with the U of I to work toward a stable funding mechanism for higher education,” Zalewski said. “This is an important step in the process of ensuring that each Illinois student has a path toward success by staying in his or her home state.”

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