Assege HaileMariam, Ken Baker and I invite the campus community to participate in the 2011 strategic planning process. We hope to have stimulating, productive discussions that will prepare us to educate the next generation of students and help us build a sustainable future for EIU. William Weber

Academic Excellence

About This Concept Paper

Bob Augustine (chairperson), John Dively, Assege Haile Mariam, Andy McNitt, Mike Mulvaney, and Kraig Wheeler formed the subcommittee responsible for preparing this concept paper.

This concept paper was first posted on September 14, 2011.

Download the printable version.

A Heritage of Excellence

Eastern Illinois University’s tradition of excellence has continued to grow and develop during its evolution from a regional teachers college in 1895 to a top tier comprehensive university providing access to forty-seven undergraduate and twenty-five graduate degree programs across four colleges, the School of Continuing Education and the Graduate School. Advancing its mission while preserving quality and enhancing access defines Eastern’s legacy. Today, Eastern is the choice for over 11,000 talented students who represent a diverse heritage (19.05% are racially or ethnically diverse), who belong to multiple age groups, and who seek to change lives in classrooms, businesses and industries around the world.

Choosing Eastern means immersion in high-impact learning experiences that honor a tradition of applying the teacher-scholar model in classrooms that have an average class size of 20. Eastern’s integrative learning model promotes faculty-mentored research opportunities, honors programs, study abroad, internships, and applied learning options that demand mastery of academic content and personal development. Eastern’s 79% freshman retention rate and 62% graduation rate are nationally recognized hallmarks. In addition, the National Science Foundation Survey on Earned Doctorates indicated that more EIU undergraduates earn doctoral degrees than those from any other master’s college/university in Illinois. According to the Survey, Eastern ranked first in Illinois and in the top 5% nationwide. Finally, the IBHE Alumni Survey revealed that Eastern graduates secure prestigious positions of employment complemented by equally prestigious positions of civic leadership. These accomplishments embody the 115-year legacy of academic excellence that is Eastern Illinois University.

The Teacher-Scholar Model

Eastern fosters an environment for success. Its reputation for “making a difference” originates from institution-focused investments and student-focused experiences that support the teacher-scholar model.

Institution-focused investments are reflected in the university’s fiscal commitment to faculty. For a 10-year period from 2001 through 2010, Eastern achieved an average full-time tenured/tenure-track faculty rate of 70%, a record that is consistently above the national benchmark of 53.5% for public master’s level institutions. In addition, Eastern invests in favorable student-to-instructor ratios. In 2010, Eastern achieved a 1:16 faculty/student ratio. These human resource investments support more individualized instruction and student development. Further institution-focused investments include a fiscal commitment to achieving quality through accreditation. Eastern has been regionally accredited continuously since 1915. All nineteen teacher education programs and options are accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and are recognized by their Specialty Professional Associations. Sixteen undergraduate degree programs also are accredited by national organizations. The impact of these investments is verified in the 2010 IBHE Alumni Survey: Eighty-one percent of the alumni identified small class size, relationships with faculty/advisors, specific departmental programs, and the overall educational experience as the factors that had the most significant impact during their time at EIU.

Student-focused, teacher-scholar experiences begin with students’ immersion in high-impact learning programs upon their arrival on campus. Panther Prowl, Jumpstart 2 G.I.V.E., and Eastern Reads encourage immediate community and civic outreach. Field experiences, student teaching, practicum, study abroad, and internships are examples of student-focused experiences embedded in the curriculum that unite content with application. University, college, and department-sponsored student research/creative activity fairs provide student-focused experiences that promote faculty-mentored critical thinking and problem solving at advanced stages of study. Alumni consistently verify that these Eastern experiences boost mastery of content, ethical decision making, appreciation for diversity, community engagement, and overall quality of life.

Trends in Higher Education Impacting Academic Excellence

Higher education in the 21st century is influenced by global, technological, economic, and social trends that present opportunities and challenges universities must respond to in order to deliver education that prepares students to be competitive in an ever-changing global economy.

At the undergraduate level, these trends call for a flexible and dynamic curriculum that considers the current needs of society while at the same time grounding students in the liberal arts tradition. Such a curriculum allows students to gain practical experiences through service-learning and study abroad and accommodates their unique educational needs through integrative learning, interdisciplinary studies and life-long learning. Further, the trends also necessitate assessment of the viability of existing disciplines and development of new ones. At the graduate level, education that brings together conceptual theories, best practices and research continues to be valued.

One of the trends that invigorates and challenges the academy is technology. If students do not have basic technology proficiency and a critical and discerning mind for consuming instant and sometimes massive information, and if they do not understand the inherent ethical challenges (e.g., misuse, privacy, and bio-ethics issues), academic excellence will be affected. Further, if pedagogy is constructed around specific technology or a blanket adoption of technology, there may be a negative impact on academic excellence. In other words, pedagogy should dictate the adoption of technology. If not, the practice of acquiring technology for the purpose of shaping pedagogy may compromise the integrity of the curriculum, which in turn may have a negative impact on academic excellence.

Declining funding, rising tuition, competition, under-prepared students, and unrealistic expectations (“everyone must go to college”) are current trends that threaten academic excellence. Finally, there also is a trend that promotes an understanding of diverse cultures and world views and the ability to communicate effectively as part of academic excellence. This diversity of ideas and the ability to communicate them enhances critical thinking and the academic experience for all.

A Vision of Academic Excellence

Our faculty members and students are engaged in a collaborative effort to understand our world and the people in it. We seek to excel in the creation, acquisition, and transmission of knowledge in the liberal, fine, and applied arts and sciences and professional programs. In pursuit of these goals we attempt to ensure that:

  • Our classes are taught by fully qualified faculty, a majority of whom possess terminal degrees in their fields.
  • Our faculty members demonstrate and maintain competence in their fields by actively engaging in research and creative activities.
  • Our faculty members transmit knowledge and skills to their students by engaging in collaborative research and creative activities with their students.
  • In addition to teaching the content area of their fields, our faculty members develop the critical thinking, writing and speaking skills of our students.
  • Our faculty members aid our students by maintaining close contact with them in small classes, setting high expectations, actively mentoring them outside of class and encouraging them to pursue greater ambitions in a wider world.
  • Our faculty members engage in service and outreach and encourage our students to become ethical and responsible citizens through service and engagement with their disciplines, communities, state, nation and the world.

Advancing the Future of Academic Excellence

Advancing a rich collection of nationally recognized academic programs that distinguish Eastern as a leading proponent of academic excellence requires strategic investments. Investments that provide pathways to talented students, relationship-driven learning, and future-focused degrees are among the most critical.

Pathways to Talented Students

Honors and Graduate Students

New pathways to gifted students are essential to achieving academic excellence. Investing in admission packages complemented by dynamic, high-impact learning programs is crucial to growing the Honors Program. Potential investments include a rigorous, tiered scholarship program that provides both a variety of financial rewards and tangible academic incentives. Inventive programming—such as extended honors curricula directed at flexible innovative scholarship, vibrant living-learning communities, and advanced research and creative activity opportunities—promotes the academic excellence and national recognition honors students seek. Pathways to the best graduate students require equally inventive financial packages in conjunction with rigorous and distinctive advanced study opportunities not available elsewhere.

High-performing Students

The admission of students in the tier adjacent to honors students is essential for competitive universities. Scholarships, balanced tuition awards, unique incentives, and distinctive integrative learning opportunities will secure our share of these high performing students who often become highly competitive graduates.


Underrepresented, international, and non-traditional students create the multi-cultural learning environment required for a competitive 21st-century education. A continuum of pathways aligned with current and emerging best practices is essential to achieving an inclusive community. Offering high-quality alternative program delivery models, technology-enhanced programming, joint and dual degree options, faculty exchanges, strategic financial aid programs, and a welcoming community all have the potential to build the diverse and competitive learning community.

Underperforming Students

A successful continuum of pathways aligned with the needs of qualified but underperforming students completes Eastern’s admission profile. A continuum of engagement—from rigorous preadmission programs that strengthen communication and mathematics foundations and well-focused interventions during and after matriculation—are essential to building college-level achievement for underperforming students.

Future students will want to know that we are committed to achieving a level of academic rigor that is acknowledged beyond the university. Program accreditation, Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, and McNair Scholars Programs are clear indicators of academic rigor and should be pursued as part of the culture of excellence. Equally important to the continuing evidence of our rigor is the preservation and enhancement of our students’ critical thinking and writing skills and of their retention and graduation rates.

A Culture of Scholarship

The Eastern Scholar

Eastern’s community of scholars continues to inspire, challenge, and engage local, statewide, and national audiences. Eastern’s focus on undergraduate and graduate student research is a measure of relationship-driven learning and a unique institutional signature. Strategic enhancement of available on-campus resources directed at both faculty and students strengthens Eastern. Meaningful, collaborative, peer-reviewed research/creative activity (RCA) results in a vibrant, engaged faculty and high-impact, applied learning for our students. Centralizing the administrative arm of the RCA community will energize and unify high quality, competitive scholarship at Eastern by increasing the visibility and coordination of RCA resources and activities. Establishing criteria for distinguished research faculty, RCA centers, improved access to conference travel for faculty and student scholars, and workloads that enhance and expand faculty-student RCA will ultimately transform Eastern as the destination for those seeking the ultimate teacher-scholar experience.

The EIU Global Citizen

A 21st-century education requires global relationships across disciplines. Well-prepared students must be connected to the worldwide forces shaping their thinking and problem solving. Continuing investments in high-impact international education will ensure Eastern’s future as a globally respected university. Establishing guidelines to create a special designation for those degree programs that are distinguished by their study abroad experiences, interdisciplinary global studies, and international enrollments will further transform Eastern as a destination university for high-performing students who seek to be part of the international agenda.

The EIU Professional Experience

Capstone experiences, internships, practica, and applied learning opportunities with the best schools, businesses, and organizations contribute to Eastern’s status as the university of choice in applied fields. A strategic investment to expand and enhance this relationship-driven experience is essential to mission-focused transformation. Incentives for and recognition of programs that secure a continuum of regional, national, and international internship partners are fundamental to the Eastern experience. A Provost’s Award of Recognition for internship partners who distinguish the university would further heighten the value of joining the Eastern community. Documenting and sharing the profound relationship-driven learning experiences available in collaboration with signature internship sites complete the Eastern experience for the best and brightest students in applied disciplines.

A Culture of Distinctiveness

A future-focused university provides support for faculty to vision new degrees and transform existing curricula. Creating an incentive program that fosters the development of new degrees and certificates in emerging fields and encourages the re-visioning of existing programs would advance Eastern’s distinctiveness and aid it in becoming a destination university. Creating an annual program to share these successes with the community would mark Eastern as a future-focused, leading voice in the academy.

About EIU

Eastern Illinois University is a comprehensive institution, fully accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association. The university is located on 320 beautifully landscaped acres in Charleston, Illinois. Eastern provides the total education experience, while maintaining those personal relationships that its students expect and value. Offering 47 baccalaureate and 25 master’s degrees, Eastern enrolls more than 11,000 students in undergraduate and graduate programs. Small class sizes allow close individual attention and guidance by faculty known for their excellence in teaching, research, creative activity and service. During its 116-year history, Eastern has enriched the lives of generations of students and established a lasting reputation for excellence. The university’s reputation reflects its mission to provide superior, accessible undergraduate and graduate education in the arts, sciences, humanities and professions.

Six Strategic Themes