Good afternoon everyone! I stand before you today to deliver the 2010 State of the University Address.
This is my 11th such speech, and I can honestly say that it is one of the most important. This address is about your future…our students’ future…NIU’s future. Specifically, I want to focus on the next decade and offer you my 2020 vision, so to speak.
We are in an era of tremendous change and uncertainty. In terms of student success and fiscal sustainability, the public university model of the 20th century no longer fits.
Nationally, fewer than half of the students who enter college today finish with a degree or credential. Those who do finish take longer, pay more and are saddled with too much debt.
What’s more, in Illinois, the economic model that supported our institution for generations has eroded dramatically.
I am not going to rehash Illinois’ fiscal problems other than to say this: The past decade has demonstrated that we can no longer rely on the state as a stable source of funding for our basic academic mission. We do not have the luxury of dwelling on the past. Leadership demands that we look forward, and it should be apparent to all that we must control our own destiny.
Our students are changing, too.
A growing number bring considerable experience and diverse backgrounds to the classroom. They are transfer students, military veterans, and second-career adults. Many of them balance schoolwork with jobs, commutes to campus and family commitments. Our undergraduate enrollment mix is changing, and in the years to come, it will require us to further augment academic support services.
Finally, we are confronting another major shift in higher education, and it has to do with competition for students.
For most of the past 10 years, there was an abundance of traditional college-bound students. But those days are ending. Over the next decade, the number of Illinois high school graduates is projected to decline by nearly 5 percent.
Meanwhile, there is more competition than ever for those students. It comes from other state schools, from private institutions and community colleges; and from out-of-state.
In fact, Illinois is one of the nation’s largest exporters of college students. That should come as no surprise, given that just about every major university in the country has recruiting offices in Chicago. Our MAC counterpart, Central Michigan University, has even opened a recruiting office in Rockford.
There are also some relatively new players – namely, online universities and for-profit institutions. Make no mistake, they are real competitors. For example, the University of Phoenix today boasts an enrollment of nearly a half million students. It is a publicly traded company that has become so profitable that it now owns the naming rights to an NFL stadium.
It is this shifting landscape that provides the backdrop for the next decade. Traditional four-year colleges and universities are notoriously resistant to change—even though we as educators are trained to embrace it. It is our duty, for the sake of generations to come, to adapt, to innovate and to motivate.
At this moment, I think it is fair to say, the number of changes confronting us, and the magnitude and speed of those changes, is perhaps greater than at any other time in the past 50 years.
So are the demands being placed upon us:
All of that may seem daunting – in some ways it feels as if the ground is shifting beneath our feet. However, let me reassure you, NIU is up to the challenge, and we have been taking steps to prepare.
The NIU Great Journeys Strategic Plan, led by Provost Ray Alden and driven by our faculty, has provided us with a detailed roadmap for our academic future. Additionally, the Baccalaureate Review Task Force is conducting a complete review of our bachelor’s degree programs.
And finally, a year ago, I created the Enrollment Management Strategic Planning Task Force, led by Vice-President Brian Hemphill. This group is drafting NIU’s first ever comprehensive enrollment management plan to coordinate our recruitment efforts.
But one missing component is necessary to realize our vision.
We need ways to measure our success. We need mile markers, so to speak, to determine the progress we are making on our journey.
That is why I am announcing today the creation of the Vision 2020 Initiative.
A soon-to-be-formed Vision 2020 Committee will build upon the work of the groups I just mentioned. It will determine which strategic goals should be most important to NIU as we enter this competitive new era . . . one in which society and government will place a premium on efficiency and productivity.
It will identify our key aspirations for academic and student life programs and clearly define specific benchmarks for student, faculty, and facility excellence. This will require accurately assessing where we stand now and projecting where we must be in the future.
I feel so strongly about the importance of this undertaking that I will personally chair our new Vision 2020 Committee.
What types of issues will we wrestle with? Let me give you some examples:
As I said, we are not out to reinvent the wheel. Our efforts will draw upon Great Journeys and other strategic planning documents already in place. But we will also study peer institutions to see how we stack up and to help establish where we should set the bar.
Setting goals is just the beginning. The committee will also be charged with developing strategies to reach those goals and identifying funding sources to meet our objectives. This last point is crucial, because the process must help us evolve into a more efficient, fiscally sustainable institution that is less dependent on the State of Illinois.
As you can see, there is much work to do.
Later this month, in support of the Vision 2020 Initiative, I will appoint a steering committee to help me coordinate and develop this effort. By Thanksgiving, we will have the full Vision 2020 committee in place — representing shared governance and all facets of campus. By the close of the academic year, this group will present a report to the Board of Trustees for its endorsement.
As the plan is implemented, the committee will track our progress toward our 2020 vision and present annual updates to the university community.
Make no mistake: Our goals will be ambitious, and the benchmarks to which we hold ourselves will require us to stretch. But each bit of progress will enhance our ability to control our own destiny and help ensure a vibrant future for Northern Illinois University for decades to come.
I also expect that the Vision 2020 Initiative will help us reach a pivotal overarching goal that I am setting for NIU. Going forward, we must strive to be the most student-centered public research university in the state, if not the Midwest.
That’s worth repeating: The most student-centered public research university in the Midwest.
All of us—from buildings and grounds workers who make this campus beautiful … to our talented staff, who make this university run seamlessly … to our alumni, who are our greatest ambassadors … and especially to our outstanding and dedicated faculty—all of us can, should and must work to make the NIU student educational experience exceptional. The caring and welcoming nature of NIU is one of our greatest assets.
We aim to make NIU the first choice among talented students in our region. Yet, we are an institution of higher learning, not a publicly traded company. Students are not here simply to purchase a degree and move on. To us at NIU, education is not a commodity and students are not a source of profit.
The NIU experience, the true power of NIU, lies in the transformation our students undergo as a result of their studies here.
It is our duty not only to educate – but also to motivate. We need to pull our students up, not push them out. Yes, we produce accountants, artists, educators, judges, scientists, computer whizzes, medical professionals, public administrators and more.
But our true hallmark is producing problem solvers, global citizens and tomorrow’s leaders.
At the heart of being student centered is a commitment to student academic success. The Vision 2020 Initiative will place a premium on that.
One of the primary ways we already accomplish this is through engaged learning. I am very proud to say NIU excels in this area – and we are only going to get better.
Research clearly shows that students who are actively involved in both academic and extramural activities gain more from the college experience. Our foundational values--which emphasize teaching, research and regional outreach—serve our students well.
NIU students work alongside faculty investigating new ways to fight disease, creating new teaching and learning strategies, shedding new light on the building blocks of nature, gathering new and critical information on global climate change and helping companies solve real-world problems.
Through internships, study abroad and a multitude of other programs, we continue to increase and enhance opportunities for hands-on learning. These opportunities excite students in ways no textbook can and provide them with experiences they cannot get elsewhere. It sets them apart from their peers and sets us apart from the competition.
Just this past spring, NIU held its first annual Undergraduate Research Day. Nearly 200 student researchers participated. This type of engaged learning is a key component of our identity as a student-centered public research university, and it must be a key component of the Vision 2020 Initiative as well.
We know engaged learning develops better comprehension and critical-thinking skills, but we need to ensure that as many students as possible participate. For example, how many undergraduates should be participating in Research Day next spring . . . or in 2015 . . . or in 2020? What is our goal?
Along those same lines, how many students should be involved in programs like USOAR and URAP? What percentage of our students should study abroad or do internships? Again, the Vision 2020 Initiative will tackle these questions and point us in the right direction on our journey.
We all know there are costs involved in engaged learning. It is time consuming and sometimes requires student travel and other expenses. And in this era of austerity and economic uncertainty, how can we step up those efforts?
The Vision 2020 Initiative will require us to take matters into our own hands, both through our fundraising and efforts to attract external funding for research.
We have already started to do so.
Throughout the 1990s, NIU received a grand total of $36 million in private support. Then along came True North, NIU's first-ever comprehensive capital campaign.
When we embarked on an ambitious $150 million campaign, there were many who thought perhaps we should think smaller, not set our sights so high. And I could fully understand their caution. We had never tested ourselves before and to aim this high in our very first effort was, well, bold. Just like NIU.
Last year at my State of the University address, I announced we had reached our $150 million goal. But in true NIU fashion, we just kept going.
On June 30, Northern Illinois University closed the books on its first comprehensive fund-raising campaign with $162.4 million in gifts.
We have come a long way. Just last Saturday, Barbara and I hosted a dinner at the residence for donors who had contributed $1 million or more during the course of the campaign. The house was full.
Ten years ago I could have hosted such a dinner at a table for two.
So, what have we learned from our True North experience? First, alumni who reconnect with the university are motivated to get involved and to give. Second, alumni and friends have the financial means and inclination to make major and powerful gifts that will help define the NIU of the 21st century.
This is important knowledge, and we need to act upon it. Given what we now know, what should be our fundraising goals for the next five years and next decade? How will we get there?
The Vision 2020 Committee, working in consultation with the NIU Foundation and the NIU Alumni Association, will help us set new goals and devise new strategies within the context of our academic and facility goals and modern economic realities.
I am also confident NIU is poised to increase the amount of external funding we secure to support research, public service, artistry and instruction. This benefits our students by providing even more exposure to cutting-edge researchers and by making them partners in the discovery process.
It is worth noting that the government’s economic stimulus boosted federal funding for university research nationwide by about 30 percent on average.
Thanks to the talents, efforts and hard work of our faculty and staff, our share of federal-stimulus funding over the past year nearly tripled the national average. It proves that NIU faculty scientists and researchers can and do compete with anyone.
Our Strategic Plan is already shaping our 2020 vision for research – aligning our research strengths with priority areas for federal and private-grant funding. It led to the creation of new areas of study that respond to both student demand and the emerging needs of society.
They include our new Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability and Energy; and our new Center for Non-Governmental Organization Leadership and Development.
But what other key new interdisciplinary centers are vital to our institutional viability? What should be our target amount for total grant and contract awards in five years or 10 years? How many patents should we secure, and how many new companies should emerge from the work of our researchers? How can we further enhance the creative activities of faculty and student artistry and service on our campus?
Vision 2020, aided by the Strategic Plan, will undoubtedly help us fine-tune those goals and develop strategies to ensure success.
The Vision 2020 Initiative must also ensure that we provide a first-class living-learning environment for students. We cannot – and we will not -- let the state’s financial woes trump our responsibility to do so.
Earlier I mentioned the need to be more entrepreneurial. Last spring our Board of Trustees provided a bold example of what that means.
They entered into an agreement with the Collegiate Housing Foundation that will allow us to replace existing housing with a new state-of-the-art residential complex for 1,000 students.
Built around a central community center and dining facility, it will be designed to meet the needs of future generations of students. Best of all, all of that will be created with no up-front expense to the university.
It will be our first new undergraduate residential complex in 40 years, and it will incorporate the latest thinking in campus housing design. This is no idle boast. The new complex will be the first in the nation to use an innovative design concept that divides floors into pods, or neighborhoods, of 12 students.
Each pod will include shared common space for studying and socializing, while providing each student with a private bedroom and bath. It is a concept that we are very excited about, and one that we expect will become a national model.
The complex will be ready to welcome students in the fall of 2012. It will be the centerpiece of a residential renaissance—one that I believe will transform campus life at NIU. Central to that effort will be creating the most attractive, accommodating, accessible, and safe housing in the Midwest.
In addition to the Collegiate Housing Foundation project, we will undertake major improvements to upgrade our existing residential facilities as well. Many of our residence halls are 50 years old or older and simply will not meet the expectations of tomorrow’s student. As part of this renaissance we will:
Other aspects of the plan will allow us to:
To fund these major improvements, the Board of Trustees will begin consideration of a plan later this month for the sale of Build America Bonds.
Build America presents a unique opportunity for universities to issue revenue bonds for which a portion of the interest will be federally subsidized. This will result in substantial savings over the life of the bonds. But we must act before this program expires at the end of this calendar year.
Under the proposed timeline, we will revitalize or replace one-third of our existing housing stock by the end of 2012, giving us another competitive advantage over other schools.
I believe we must take advantage of this opportunity. We need to act now because the quality of the living-learning environment that we provide has a direct correlation to the quality of students we will attract and retain in the future.
Additionally, we are making progress with major renovation plans for two academic centers in the heart of our campus, Cole Hall and the Stevens Building.
Input from the faculty has been incorporated into the Cole Hall design, and we are now beginning to create the construction drawings. The project will be bid in mid-November; construction could begin as early as January; and we anticipate completion in August 2011.
Architectural and engineering design for the Stevens Building is about to begin as well. The design consultants are finalizing contracts. Program and design review meetings will be held with the School of Theatre and Dance and the Anthropology Department this fall.
Along with providing a first-rate living-learning environment, we must also concern ourselves with recruiting, retaining and rewarding our first-rate faculty and staff.
To do so, it is imperative that you who work so hard on behalf of NIU are compensated for your commitment and dedication. For some time now, circumstances have demanded that we ask you to do more with less—and to do more without additional reward.
Salaries have been flat, while the cost of living has climbed and the cost of benefit contributions has risen as well. Many of you have even been forced to pay out-of-pocket for covered expenses because healthcare providers have grown weary of waiting for the state to pay insurance claims.
Over the course of the last decade I have told you that maintaining competitive salaries is my top priority. Our Board of Trustees has embraced salaries as an essential, critical priority as well.
That is why we must develop a salary stabilization plan. I have charged Executive Vice-Presidents Ray Alden and Eddie Williams to work with the deans and other divisions of the university to do just that. They will make all necessary consultations with shared governance representatives to investigate and pursue the development of a plan that I will then take to our Board of Trustees for approval.
The plan will have the following parameters:
Any plan that receives Board approval will be effective January 1, 2011.
Although the water is murky and the future uncertain, barring a calamity in state funding, if NIU is to continue to grow and meet our mission to properly serve the people of the State of Illinois, we must make this commitment a reality. This is my highest priority.
Today, I am asking you to join with me as we embark on an exciting new chapter in our 115-year history.
The Vision 2020 Initiative will take us on a journey that will define our institution for decades to come. It will require all of us to join together, to work together, to move forward together…to help this great institution emerge even stronger in the years ahead.
The future is always intrinsically tied to the past, and in light of ourchallenges, we can and should take a moment to be proud of our many accomplishments.
We have talked a lot today about change.
My confidence in our ability to become even more agile and entrepreneurial springs from the fact that we have been doing the right things for a long, long time. We have weathered economic storms in the past – and even more trying times. We have proven our toughness, resilience and resourcefulness. We have demonstrated that no challenge is too big.
The truth is that you should take more than a moment to be proud of all we have achieved. We should be proud every day.
In fact, I strongly encourage you to talk up your university. Wear the red and black, put a bumper sticker on your car, root for the Huskies. Of course, we have an opportunity to do just that today. This is Opening Night of the NIU Huskie football season, and I am anticipating a victory in Ames, Iowa.
Speaking of victory, I’d like to share with you a brief video that we’ve been showing at orientation for new students this summer.
It is part of a new Division of University Relations campaign to raise our profile across the region by capturing the excitement of the NIU Experience.
I think it does just that.
Thank you for your time today. Thank you for your creativity, your talents and for all you do for NIU.