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

Campus and Community Life

About This Concept Paper

Heather Webb (chairperson), Ashley Aardsma, Terri Fredrick, Tina Jenkins, Tony Oliver, and Janet Werden formed the subcommittee responsible for preparing this concept paper.

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

Download the printable version.


Throughout higher education across the nation opportunities available outside the classroom, both on and off campus, are increasingly important to those who are choosing a college or university, either as a student or an employee. This importance can be seen in that U.S. News and World Reports considers “Student Life” as an evaluation variable when making their annual college rankings. The campus and community atmosphere is also important to faculty and staff as they prepare to not only work but also live within the community.

The relationship between Eastern Illinois University (EIU) and the communities of Charleston and greater Coles County cannot be overlooked as we move forward. Both campus and community offer resources that can assist the other in growth, as students, faculty and staff consider the opportunities available to them both on and off campus when they decide if they would like to be part of the EIU community. This was evident during strategic planning engagement sessions through comments made by all stakeholder groups.

Campus Activities

EIU offers fine arts, athletics, entertainment, and recreational activities throughout the year with most events occurring between August and May. The Doudna Fine Arts Center and Tarble Arts Center offer a variety of art exhibitions and educational programming for both students and the community. EIU Student Life offers opportunities in student government, campus entertainment, multicultural programming, and more than 200 registered student organizations. Students who participated in engagement sessions during the spring semester stated that Student Life programs such as Quakin’ the Quad, First Night, Homecoming Week, Family Weekend, Celebration of the Arts, and Pantherstock were valuable opportunities for both recreation and building school spirit. The fraternity and sorority community at EIU consists of 30 chapters, and 19% of EIU undergraduates are members of Greek organizations. EIU Campus Recreation provides students opportunities to participate in a variety of individual and team sports with special events in a state-of-the-art recreational facility. EIU Athletics sponsors 21 NCAA Division I sports, providing competitive opportunities to more than 400 student-athletes. In addition, Health Services, Career Services, the Counseling Center, and Housing and Dining sponsor services and activities for students throughout each academic year.

Despite the quality and number of activities available on campus, participant feedback indicated insufficient cultural, recreational, and athletic events as areas of improvement for EIU. Perhaps related to this perception, engagement participants from each of the major stakeholder groups indicated that school pride at EIU could be stronger. EIU has developed some initiatives that encourage pride for current students, such as Panther Nation and EIU First Night, but despite these established programs, the consensus among participants was that the EIU community lacked a sufficient feeling of school pride.


Over the past decade, Eastern Illinois University has completed several major facility renovations. Among them are Booth Library (2002), Blair Hall Fire and Recovery (2004), Human Services Building (2005), Doudna Fine Arts Center (2008), Textbook Rental (2010), and Renewable Energy Center (anticipated 2011).

Other facilities on campus remain in need of improvement, however. The 2010 update to the Campus Master Plan has identified two areas for new construction, a new science building to house the Chemistry and Biological Sciences departments and a new centralized location for Student Services and Information Technology. However, Coleman Hall and other buildings are overcrowded and/or in need of major repairs. Recent state budget shortfalls have led to $150-million in deferred maintenance, the effects of which can be seen around campus. Participants from several key stakeholder groups commented that the appearance and functionality of campus is a significant concern to both the campus and the community.

Area Dining, Shopping, and Lodging

Charleston and Mattoon lack a variety of dining options with fast-food restaurants and pizza dominating the list of culinary choices, a few family-style restaurants and no fine-dining establishments. There are three grocery stores in Charleston and four in Mattoon, but they offer limited selections of specialty items, such as organic, international, and vegetarian/vegan foods. Small farmers markets are open once per week in Charleston and Mattoon from June through October. There were comments offered, specifically from international students, that the lack of a variety of foods is a significant concern in attracting and retaining students, faculty and staff that need or desire different dietary options. The lack of dietary options hinders our ability to recruit a more diverse community, and then to support them within our community. Additionally, this limits opportunities to educate others in the area of diversity.

Retail shopping is limited in Coles County, with major national retail chains including Wal-Mart Super-Center, Home Depot, Staples, and Big Lots, and very few specialty shops. The Cross County Mall in Mattoon recently underwent a significant renovation; and while the mall does offer JCPenney and Sears as anchor stores, many of the available 38 storefronts are currently unoccupied. A 44-store Tanger Outlet Mall is located 30-40 minutes to the northwest in Tuscola and larger shopping districts are located within a 1-hour drive in Champaign, Effingham, and Terre Haute. The lack of shopping venues is another area that was identified by constituents as being a concern to members of our campus community.

Visitors to the EIU campus have limited lodging options. Charleston offers two hotels and two bed-and-breakfast inns. Most visitors find accommodations in Mattoon, which has seven hotels on its eastern edge, all within one mile of I-57. During major campus or community events when the hotels are fully booked, some visitors are forced to find lodging in the more distant communities of Arcola, Tuscola, and Effingham. There have been concerns about the message this sends to a prospective student’s parents.


EIU provides transportation in Charleston and on campus via the EIU Panther shuttle service with scheduled stops. The shuttle service is periodically reviewed and changes are made as needed. Options when traveling to and from EIU campus are somewhat limited. The Martin Luther King Jr. University Union offers weekend bus service to the Chicago suburbs throughout the academic year. Lincoln Land Express bus service has recently become available to EIU students for off campus travel. The Amtrak train station in Mattoon provides daily service north to Chicago and south to Memphis (with multiple stops in between).

Lack of adequate public transportation was cited as a major concern. Traveling outside the Charleston city limits can be difficult for students and residents who do not have cars. This can make it difficult to reach area shopping centers, the Amtrak train station, or Sarah Bush Lincoln Hospital (located 6 miles from campus).

Local Attractions

Like EIU, the Charleston and Mattoon communities have updated and improved their public-use facilities over the past several years. The Rotary Community Aquatics Center was reopened in August of 2006 following an extensive renovation. Renovations to the Charleston City Hall were completed in 2007, enhancing the appeal of Charleston’s town square, and Charleston Carnegie Library was reopened in January 2008 following a significant renovation and expansion. While there are other local attractions in close proximity to EIU such as the Lincoln-Douglas Debate Museum, Fox Ridge State Park, and Lincoln Log Cabin, attractions of this type may not be appealing to the traditional college student. Constituent groups expressed a need to have activities available within the area that would appeal to the students and assist in not only attracting them but also retaining them to Eastern Illinois University.

Campus-Community Interaction

Over the past decade, new leadership has strengthened existing relationships and created new partnerships between Eastern Illinois University and Coles County. In April 2005, John Inyart was elected mayor of the city of Charleston, and as a small business owner he has helped enhance the relationship between the community and the campus. He serves on the EIU President’s Cabinet, which meets monthly, and participates in an annual meeting with the EIU student government. On July 1, 2007, Dr. William L. Perry was appointed as the 10th sitting president of Eastern Illinois University. Through the encouragement of President Perry and Mayor Inyart to enhance collaboration between the Charleston community and EIU campus, the Student Community Service Office was established in Fall 2008. Its mission is to promote volunteerism and to provide service opportunities for students in the community, and the office has quickly become a success: between August 2010 and July 2011, EIU students recorded over 90,000 hours of service to the local community.

Many EIU events are open to the Coles County community, such as the Doudna and Tarble events and Eastern Illinois Athletics, and several departments have events that are open to the public. Community members who participated in engagements indicated they value these opportunities, but better external marketing and incentives are needed to draw community members into campus events.

Lessons Learned

Several lessons can be taken from the past decade:

Collaborative Leadership is Critical to Future Campus and Community Success

Through cooperation and sharing of limited resources, university and community leaders are able to help EIU, Coles County, and the cities of Charleston and Mattoon in reaching their goals and overcoming resource deficiencies. The recovery from the Blair Hall fire in April 2004 is an example of such collaboration.

Deferring Facility Maintenance Could Damage Campus Image and Appeal

Even in times of economic difficulties, EIU is represented largely through the appearance and maintenance of campus facilities and green spaces. If deferred maintenance continues, it may negatively impact student recruitment, faculty recruitment, and staff recruitment.

Continue to Invest in Campus Activities and Student Life

In a smaller, rural community where privately-owned recreational services are limited, EIU is a primary provider of activities of interest to students, employees, and community residents. Existing opportunities should be periodically reviewed in an effort to continue the strongest opportunities, as well as develop new opportunities.

Enhance Campus and Community Transportation

The geographic location of EIU and the lack of an established public transportation system is a barrier for EIU. The Panther Shuttle has been an effective transportation resource for students traveling around campus and to local points of interest in the Charleston community. This has been welcomed by students, but there is still a strong desire to expand transportation options beyond this area.

Promote Panther “Pride”

Incoming students and employees often arrive on campus with a lack of true enthusiasm for EIU. Increasing student and employee commitment to the university and its community could have significant positive impacts, including increased patronage of campus events and community businesses, as well as increased service and involvement with campus and community organizations or initiatives.

Strategic Themes

The continued growth and success of EIU and Coles County depends on our relationship with one another. In order to create a vibrant, sustainable community, we need to work on the following:

  • Coordinate and improve the scheduling and marketing of on-campus and community-based events.
  • Identify new strategies and activities for improving school spirit and commitment to EIU.
  • Address transportation needs for EIU students and community members.
  • Retain and strengthen successful on-campus programs and services, while continuing to assess the needs of the students, faculty and staff to respond, which may include adding to or changing what is currently offered, or eliminating those no longer necessary.
  • Strengthen strategic partnerships across campus and between EIU and local businesses, schools, organizations, and government offices.
  • Partner with Coles County and the cities of Mattoon and Charleston to attract businesses, restaurants, cultural events, and other resources to the area.

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