State of the University

Faculty Reception, September 1, 2010
Bill Perry, President

Today, I am making a few remarks about the state of the university. At the three-year mark in my service to EIU, such remarks seem timely. At the conclusion, we can engage in some Q & A on any topics of interest.

The overall academic quality of the institution is strong. Our disciplinary program reviews are consistently excellent and complimentary of our faculty qualifications, academic standards, and plans for progress. Because of demand, we are a selective institution at the undergraduate and graduate level, with more demand for admission than capacity. Our faculty are competitive for external funding of research, publish in respected university presses and other venues, and are recognized nationally and internationally. The quality of our faculty appointments is excellent, and the quality of our successful tenure candidates is superior. Our tenure-track and tenured faculty appointees have their terminal degrees from Research One universities recognized for their research program quality. We are able to attract and hire a strong, diverse faculty because of the quality of our existing faculty, the maintenance of a dynamic community of scholars, and a teaching environment of small classes and personal interaction with students.

Student recruitment and retention strategies are successful; we consistently attract more applicants than we can accept. We accept approximately 70% of our undergraduate applicants. We continue to purposefully recruit first-generation college students at the undergraduate level. The percentage of first-generation students is just under 40%. We honor our heritage of being a university of opportunity for our citizens. Our degree programs offered through our School of Continuing Education offer access to non-traditional age students and continue to grow in semester credit hours generated. Overall, our headcount target enrollment remains at 12,000 for the fall semester. We have come within 40 of that number for Fall 2008 and Fall 2009. Final Fall 2010 numbers are not in yet, but new international student enrollment is up at both the graduate and undergraduate level. Transfer enrollment is up. New freshman enrollment is down. Our efforts to build diverse applicant pools at the undergraduate level are succeeding. As a result the diversity of our student body has increased to 15%. Our freshman to sophomore retention rate is 79%. This is very good, but we wish to increase it to 85%. We must redouble our efforts in recruitment and retention, especially in light of the growing percentage of our budget that tuition income represents.

Our academic program offerings are stable in number. There is demand from our students for all majors. The B.S. in Nursing program is fully operational. In order to meet the market demand for delivery, we have made this program feasible on line. A significant change for us is, as demand for online courses in our BGS and OPD programs has been met, that it is now possible for those programs to be completed entirely online. We continue to develop minors and options that are responsive to advances in academic disciplines and changes in professional practice and expectations. Looking to the future, we see the potential for interdisciplinary studies in certain areas, such as ethics, humanities, autism, and energy. Campus wide discussions on Integrative Learning, the umbrella under which our effort to be the best in the nation at integrating the academic and personal development of our students, have been fruitful.

Student outcomes for retention and graduation are above average, but we must improve. A robust future of our university depends on strong enrollment, which in turn depends on recruitment and retention. Data from the National Survey of Student Engagement and the Survey of Collegiate Learning Assessment are positive with respect to our students' interactions with faculty and the rigor or faculty require. 79% of our first year students believe EIU has a substantial commitment to their academic success. That percentage needs to be higher. Long-term success in retention will be driven by improvement in integrative learning, specific programs in the Student Success Center, and continuing improvement in the first year experience (Eastern Reads, and PROWL are excellent examples).

EIU is financially very well managed. Externally-based evidence of this includes a strong rating from Moody's that resulted in our ability to finance our renewable energy center project and external audits with no substantial findings regarding financial status. Further evidence is in our series of balanced budgets and low debt profile. The status of Illinois' state budget had a negative impact on our cash flow in Fiscal Year 2010, but we passed that "stress test." We are likely to have another such test next spring. We have seen a Fiscal Year 2011 6+% cut in our state general revenue funding. Although a cut of that magnitude ($ 3,000,000) is being managed, it will exacerbate the cash flow situation likely for spring 2011, and it will have an impact on the institution's expenditures in personnel and operations. Fiscal Year 2012 is a real question mark, but likely will bring further cuts. These developments mean that we must optimize our programs with those resources we raise. These developments also mean that we must secure our enrollment at sustainable levels. In part this means we will need to redouble our efforts in recruitment and retention.

In the last two fiscal years, we have allocated resources in alignment with the institutional priorities announced in spring 2008 after extensive consultation in fall 2007. The returns on these investments have included an increase in faculty mentored graduate and undergraduate research, an increase in Study Abroad participation, creation of the Office of Student Community Service, which has increased our service profile and enhanced community relations, enhanced programming for the Doudna Fine Arts center and increased arts outreach, increased marketing analysis and placement, a successful silent phase of the Campaign for Eastern, increased numbers of alumni who give, and a commitment to sustainability resulting in a renewable-energy fueled steam plant to be completed in 2011.

Our students have positive impressions of EIU. Data from the NSSE and the CLA indicate strong student satisfaction. Our students find the university academically challenging, with the university committed to their academic success. 71% of graduating seniors indicated they had participated in an integrative learning experience. There are some areas where the data indicate we need improvement. For example slightly more than half of graduating seniors interviewed had not attended a single cultural event at the Doudna Fine Arts Center. Later this semester the overall data will be presented by the provost at a Faculty Senate meeting, and then more broadly. I would add that we would not as a university have the ability to significantly address deferred maintenance in our physical science and life sciences buildings and plan for a new science facility were it not for the student government's resolve in endorsing a multi-step fee increase. As I mentioned earlier, student support with the General Assembly was crucial in the successful steam plant replacement with the Renewable Energy Center.

Relationships with the region and community are very good. A prime example of this is the development of the Renewable Energy Center. The first conceptual drawings drew great concern from the neighborhoods near our chosen location. Through a series of community meetings we elicited the specific concerns, reported back on the changes we could make, changed the exterior design. There were no objections that limited our ability to get permission from the General Assembly for the project. Community relationships are built and are being built by multiple means: the President's Cabinet (created by President Hencken), the Effingham Forum (initiated fall 2009), a Tuscola Forum (first meeting spring 2010), Regional Biomass Initiative (first meeting spring 2010), Regional Energy Group (first meeting spring 2010), participation on the Boards of Coles Together, Sarah Bush Lincoln Hospital, and Chamber of Commerce, and the Good Neighbor Initiative. In addition the community service performed by EIU faculty and staff creates great good will. University initiatives of the Business Solutions Center connect with small business in the region. We have representation on the East Central Illinois Development Corporation. Our Office of Student Community Service has facilitated service in the Mattoon and Charleston Communities and more widely. We administer the Peace Meal Grant, which is a service oriented grant, delivering meals to shut-ins in the region. A recent editorial in the Journal Gazette/Time Courier was laudatory of the impact of student service in the community.

Media relations have been very satisfactory. Coverage has generally been positive, although last year's tuition increase resulted in a negative editorial. Community service performed by EIU students results in positive coverage. The special section of the paper on faculty research was a welcome recognition of the intellectual vitality of our faculty; space limitations meant only a tip of the iceberg could be represented.

The EIU Alumni Association supports the university with scholarships, alumni events, expanding annual giving, and teamwork on the Campaign for Eastern. The EIU Foundation manages gifts to the university, provides Neal Welcome Center space for philanthropic and other university functions, and works with the university to achieve important philanthropic objectives. One example of this was working with the university to explore the possibility of placing electricity-producing wind turbines on land given to the EIU Foundation. Although we did not elect to place wind turbines at this time because of cost, the feasibility of producing even more renewable electric energy for campus was made possible by this collaborative spirit.

Although much more time could be spent reviewing achievements and current status, I want to mention some developments that indicate great momentum for EIU going forward:

  • We can reduce deferred maintenance in the Physical Sciences and Life Sciences buildings by half over the next four years.
  • We are completing a Campus Master Plan Update, designed to support integrative learning and sustainability, which includes a long needed new science facility.
  • We have numerous research, teaching, and public service opportunities and partnerships related to the Renewable Energy Center. We should be among the first universities to have a research biomass gasifier and commercial biomass gasifier availability for biomass fuel gasification analysis.
  • Our Regional Biomass Initiative will enhance economic development in our region and possibly provide local biomass for the fuel stock for our Renewable Energy Center.
  • The Campaign for Eastern will provide support for faculty, students, and programs. The silent phase has been very successful, and the kickoff and public announcement of our goal will occur in October.
  • Alumni support continues to grow. Counter to national trends the number of our alumni who give to EIU has increased.

From a position of strength and positive short term prospects, we must plan for the long-term future of the university.

We have always been a place of opportunity, and we must remain so. We are at a time in our history that, regardless of the reasons for it, tuition has increased and the affordability of an Eastern Illinois University education is a crucial issue to be addressed. Even though among Midwest master's institutions our graduates have the second lowest debt, we mustn't ignore the facts: the median income of a one-earner household in Illinois in 2008 was approximately $46,000 and our tuition, mandatory fees, and room and board total $18,240 for our entering freshmen this fall. I believe the trajectory of increasing tuition and stagnant state funding is unsustainable for us as an institution of access. Therefore, late this fall we will begin a planning process focused on building a sustainable academic and financial environment for Eastern; an environment that gratefully acknowledges state support, but focuses on self reliance and discipline to keep the promise of public higher education a real one for future generations. Participation in the planning process will be wide and deep. More details will follow this fall.

I am proud to be serving you as president. Together, we are continuing and enhancing a legacy of excellence, personal relationships, opportunity and service for EIU with everything we do as faculty and staff. Just as we now hear from alumni who are deeply grateful for their experience at Eastern, most often strongly influenced by memories of our demands for excellence and of abiding personal relationships with faculty and staff, we must assure that the alumni who are graduating now hold for years to come that same deep affection for EIU. The faculty and staff who serve in our stead in future generations will prosper from our legacy of service, just as we do now from the legacy of those who served before us. Let us expect greatness of ourselves and our students in ensuring an enduring university of excellence for service to the highest ideals of higher education. Should we meet self-imposed high expectations, there is no limit to what we can achieve.

Thank you.