Legislative Testimony

March 3, 2011
William L. Perry, President
Eastern Illinois University

Honorable Chairperson and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today and represent Eastern Illinois University, a university of opportunity since its founding in 1895. Thank you for your support of EIU.

I would like to take my time today to focus on the many great things happening at Eastern. While we are all aware of the economic challenges that face our state, I am proud to say that Eastern has met these challenges and continues to serve students in an exceptional manner. Most importantly, we've done so in an efficient and effective manner that focuses on responsible use of public funds.

At Eastern, we're committed to meeting the goals of the Public Agenda for College and Career Success. We have been a university of opportunity for over 115 years and we hold strongly to that tradition today.

Access

We're committed to increasing educational attainment in Illinois, and we work hard to maintain affordability and accessibility. In 2009-10, 33 percent of our students who filed a FAFSA came from a home reporting under $33,075 in annual income.

Currently 1 of every 3 Eastern students is eligible to receive the Pell Grant, a demonstration of their financial need. We are proud that 48 percent of our incoming students this year were first generation college students. Our staff members are working hard to make connections with those students who may not feel that college is within their reach, and our statistics show that we are connecting with them successfully.

Remaining accessible also means working to keep costs as low as reasonably possible for students. For FY11, Eastern has the third lowest undergraduate tuition and fees of all public universities.

Academics

We value excellence, personal relationships, opportunity, and service. We hold our students and ourselves to high standards of performance. We offer superior, accessible undergraduate and graduate education, with excellent student-faculty ratios, small classes, and personal attention.

Articulation

Eastern also continues to enjoy a strong relationship with Illinois community colleges. We have over 150 articulation agreements, a full-time Office of Transfer Relations, and ongoing dialogue with community college presidents to assure that these relationships continue to grow.

Our work, and the work of our community college peers, has helped Eastern remain highly accessible to transfer students. This is evidenced by the fact that slightly over 1 in 3 students have transferred to Eastern from a community college.

Diversity

The students at Eastern take diverse paths to college and come from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds. Our student body also continues to become more racially and ethnically diverse. Since 2004, students of color have grown from 9 percent of our student body to 17 percent in 2010, almost doubling in seven years.

Our students representing racial and ethnic minorities are also having growing success in the classroom. The graduation rate for first-time minority freshmen has grown from 40 percent to 47 percent in the past three years.

Sustainability

We recognize that universities of the future must also be sustainable operations. The Eastern performance contract with Honeywell International to build a renewable energy center and institute energy saving measures continues to move forward toward on-time and on-budget completion. This project is a tremendous example of how a university can make an investment of over $80 million without the use of taxpayer dollars or student tuition.

Eastern has also created a Regional Biomass Committee, bringing together local farmers and faculty members to discuss the feasibility of creating a regional biomass market with economic development potential for the area. We're also working with groups such as the Illinois Biomass Working Group to collaboratively explore ways that biomass will power Illinois' future.

Finally, our faculty members are developing a renewable energy curriculum to better prepare students for the energy jobs of the future. Our ability to continue adopting innovative energy strategies is wholly reliant upon the next generation of men and women who will lead the renewable energy industry.

Retention & Graduation

Getting students to campus is just the beginning of what we do. The work of our faculty members and our academic support staff is a point of pride at Eastern. All of our faculty and staff put forth a tremendous effort to help students succeed, and data support the assertion that they do an exceptional job.

For the Fall 2008 to Fall 2009 full-time retention rate, Eastern led all Illinois master's comprehensive institutions with 79 percent retention from freshman to sophomore year—the first critical step in college success. Our graduation rate remains above the national average for public universities.

Strong retention and graduation statistics demonstrate the effort and effectiveness of our faculty members and academic support staff who work diligently to help students succeed.

Sound Fiscal Management

Eastern has adopted numerous strategies to deal with uncertain economic times. We're budgeting conservatively and ensuring that students are served with distinction. For example, the university continues to use scarce institutional funds to provide additional financial aid for students who have been affected by decreases in the MAP program.

Our campus-wide cost containment initiative has been effective. We solicit ideas from all campus constituents to learn how we can operate more efficiently. We have instituted some of the suggestions made, after determination of positive fiscal impact.

Finally, Eastern has continued a hiring freeze that requires presidential approval for all hires that are not deemed critical for accreditation or for mission success. The hiring freeze has resulted in 60 headcount reduction in faculty and staff. This will result in an estimated annualized savings of $3.1 million.

Regardless of sacrifices made by departments across campus, our faculty and staff understand that students must be supported and provided the opportunity to finish their degrees. Our employees are working diligently, doing more with less, and assuring that increased efficiency insures that students are insulated from the effects of funding shortfalls.

The Future We Envision

Our overarching goal is simple: to be the best in the nation at integrating the academic and personal development of students. The faculty and staff of Eastern provide exemplary educational experiences for our students to support that goal. We have done this successfully despite the lowest General Revenue Funding per full-time student among public master's institutions in Illinois. In FY10, Eastern received $4,790 in per FTE GRF funding, in comparison to an average per FTE GRF level of $6,064 for all master's comprehensive institutions in Illinois.

Our institution has consistently worked in an efficient and effective manner that places students first. In an environment characterized by scarce resources, we invest our funds strategically in programs and people that benefit our students.

I support an outcomes-based funding model for higher education that aligns with and supports the Public Agenda for College and Career Success. I support the conclusion of the Higher Education Finance Commission with respect to the importance of retention and graduation rates as performance indicators. In addition, I agree with the Commission's findings that highlight the need to utilize indicators such as academic progress and enrollment of students from underrepresented groups as crucial to evaluating the outcomes produced by universities. Finally, it is crucial that a stop loss component is included as outcomes based funding is ineffective if it becomes an overtly punitive process.

It is imperative that such a program is tailored to the different types of institutions that serve this state. Our community colleges, master's comprehensives, and research institutions serve different missions that must be reflected in an outcomes-based funding system. A well-crafted program will help guide universities toward closer alignment with the Public Agenda, provide direction for improvement in key academic outcomes, and provide the highly trained and educated workforce necessary for the advancement of the state. If universities are allowed to work collaboratively with the General Assembly and IBHE, we can produce an equitable funding model that benefits all institutions and, in turn, residents of our state.

I offer this testimony as evidence in support of further investment in Eastern. We have approached problems analytically. We have made strategic decisions that emphasize efficiency and effectiveness. We have succeeded because we work tirelessly to assure that taxpayer dollars are used in a way that most directly supports students.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak today and for your commitment to supporting our university. I will be pleased to answer any questions you may have.