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Question of the day

Wednesday, Sep 13, 2017

* With enrollment tanking at universities other than the U of I, the Tribune asks “how can Illinois make its higher ed system more attractive to students?”

Try this, Gov. Rauner. Summon the presidents of the state schools to Springfield. Ask them to make pitches about what each of their universities does best. What programs, classes, professors make their universities distinctive and attractive? And what subject areas are specialties of other state schools? Ask leaders to rethink the degrees they offer and the value that students gain for the tuition dollar at so many schools doing such similar jobs. Ask these administrators what academic expertise each of them could build in a few fields, if they were freed from competing for students in every field.

Do these leaders need a model? Tell them to check out what’s happening in Wisconsin’s single, centrally overseen system. New York and California also have rebalanced their offerings statewide.

But be wary, Governor. You’ll have trouble convincing some special interests, including legislators from university towns, that a campus isn’t first and foremost a cash cow for the local economy. Illinois can’t continue to prop up so many schools that have duplicate administrators, duplicate overhead and duplicate curriculums. Too many campuses are competing for scarce resources to do what other universities are doing better.

Whenever you encounter pushback, keep repeating: “Nine university boards to oversee 12 schools.”

The idea isn’t to weaken already-faltering universities, but to strengthen and rationalize the statewide system. By making schools accountable to centralized oversight. By streamlining procurement and consolidating other business operations. By sending a larger chunk of cash into classrooms and labs, and a smaller chunk into overhead and administration.

* The Question: Your thoughts on the Tribune’s ideas?

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 2:55 pm:

    Spot on.

  2. - Because I said so.... - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:00 pm:

    No doubt the pool of students coming out of high school is shrinking but cutting off funding to the public universities is the single largest factor in students not attending Illinois public universities. And that sits squarely on the shoulders of Rauner.

  3. - @MisterJayEm - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:01 pm:

    Might be a good idea, but it requires the universities (and their communities) to trust the governor, so it’s a non-starter right now.

    – MrJM

  4. - Annonin' - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:03 pm:

    Silliest idea ever
    Why would they meet with executioner?
    How about the GA approve a big pile of beand to recruit the border states as hard as they pursued in IL?

  5. - Dave "King Kong" Kingman - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:03 pm:

    Until the quality meets the price, Illinois’ children are better off out of state. Iowa, Iowa State, Drake, Ball State or Missouri to name a few. Their product is inferior.

  6. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:04 pm:

    The notion of the universities being duplicative in their offerings seems straight forward on the surface but if you drill down you’ll see that is not quite that simple.

    First, many courses taken within one major are taken by students enrolled in other majors. So if you look to cut a program based only on the majors in that program, you don’t know how much damage you are doing to students in other fields who are also taking those classes.

    Also, many of these majors offer a larger number of general education classes. Sure, at UIUC those are taught by grad students but at most places those are taught by the same faculty teaching the major courses, as well as grad programs in the same major.

    Further, not only are faculty shared across these different programs but so is the space. Lab space is used in the gen ed courses, the undergraduate courses, and the grad courses for example. So if you cut the major program but still have general education courses, you have space and equipment going unused a good portion of the time. You also have trouble drawing quality faculty if they only get to teach gen ed courses.

  7. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:06 pm:

    ===Do these leaders need a model? Tell them to check out what’s happening in Wisconsin’s single, centrally overseen system. New York and California also have rebalanced their offerings statewide===

    “The Lincoln University” system was my thought for a long time, so if that’s where they wanna start, I’m for it…


    Both - Annonin’ - and - @MisterJayEm - make solid points to both trust and honesty to the task.

    A gubernatorial candidate willing to discuss an idea like “Lincoln University, at Charleston”… at Macomb, at Edwardsville…

    … I’d like that discussion very… very much.


  8. - Annonin' - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:07 pm:

    How about alums get asked to recruit in and out of state? We know one small IL town that provided about 1% of freshman class with minimal effort

  9. - Dan Johnson - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:10 pm:

    Basically right. Integrating universities, community colleges and even high schools into a streamlined, rational system with transfers and universal course catalogs is a huge governance lift but worth it. Of course, no political upside.

  10. - Annonin' - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:11 pm:

    How about a plan or a belch from Tom Cross or is he in Barbados with Meeks

  11. - Honeybear - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:11 pm:

    All they have to do is look at SIUE to see why that idea is a bad idea.
    SIUE and Edwardsvile/Glen Carbon are a vibrant economic ecosystem. Their success flies in the face of your austerity justification

    Quit being the tool of large corporate interests Trib and learn how a small city and a small university can be successful together.

  12. - MSIX - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:15 pm:

    This is not unlike those folks who demand we cut spending but then can’t or won’t put their necks on the line to specify exactly what should be cut. Much of a school’s administrative costs are due to federal or state mandates for certain programs like ADA, Title IX, EO, etc. Increased use of advanced technology requires more highly trained and competitively paid IT folks, many of whom are counted as “administrative” positions by those who complain about such things.

    Could you walk into any university and find one or two positions that might be consolidated? Sure, just as you could with almost any organization. But the idea that there is widespread duplication of effort that could be centralized within a state system is not the panacea they make it out to be.

  13. - Ducky LaMoore - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:17 pm:

    Not that I am opposed to ideas like this, but to think that the Governor’s governing philosophy is anything more than that of a Bergen in search of a Troll is a mistake… and perhaps gives his governing philosophy too much credit.

  14. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:20 pm:

    Has the Trib ever had a good idea?

  15. - H-W - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:20 pm:

    Foolishness, plain and simple. Higher Education is not a business. The business model does not apply. Higher Ed. does not produce workers. It produces leaders of workers. Higher Ed. does not train people to manage workers solely; it prepares people to lead in their communities as well as in their workplaces. Presupposing a couple majors here and another couple different majors there will serve the citizenry equally if absurd. Assuming it will serve the collective good and the collective interests of the state well is not only absurd, it is also false (and stupid). When applied to Higher Ed., the business model must fail the citizenry.

  16. - gadfly - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:20 pm:

    A couple of thoughts, the administrators that the Trib and others like to hate on are providing services that the students and their parents demand. If you eliminate administrators the needs they meet will be placed upon the faculty to fulfill. That’s less time for faculty to do the things they are paid to do: teaching, writing, publishing, editing, researching, mentoring students, guest lecturing at other institutions, participating in university governance, participating on new faculty search committees, mentoring junior faculty, and numerous other university service requirements.

  17. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:24 pm:

    Illinois needs to make a commitment to it’s own home grown students first and foremost. There is (was) some state (and therefore campus) pride in Illinois at our flagship university when I attended. Now, it seems like no one’s university. Lest anyone jump on me for being exclusionist, let me remind you who pays and supports this university. I don’t pay for Iowa. So, in state tuition should be a deal for instate students so they can’t get something better out of state. And admission? Please. We have plenty of top quality seniors who would go to ILlinois if given the chance instead of favoring out of state students. If out of state students want to attend , triple the cost of instate tuition. Other states do.

  18. - dsfjo - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:24 pm:

    I have said this before, but the Trib/Rauner solution should be to negotiate in-state tuition agreements with the bordering states. Then let the “free market” decide which schools should remain and under what circumstances. In the short run, it would crater Illinois schools attendance as students flock to bordering states. But the market would force the Illinois unis to figure out how to retain Illinois students and attract out of staters.

  19. - Doug - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:25 pm:

    It’s almost as if someone foretold this happening and wrote a book about it.

  20. - Macbeth - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:28 pm:

    Why in the world would anyone from any university meet with the governor? He’s single-handedly responsible for the impasse.

    That’s like asking a prisoner about to executed to coordinate with the hangman to better mitigate the mess of the execution. “Yeah, so, you know, fall straight down. Straight. Try not to swing, if you don’t mind. K? You kink the rope if you swing.”

  21. - Moody's Blues - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:29 pm:

    Interesting to read some objections here and then read the editorial and the earlier ones making this proposal. To the Anonymous 3:04 point: I don’t think it’s as if Macomb would have only students majoring in hard sciences:

    “First principle: Reorganize all 12 of Illinois’ state universities into one centrally overseen entity, not a dozen fiefdoms under nine separate boards, as they are now. Because all these universities should share a single goal — to offer Illinois’ young people an array of campuses with common basics but specialized strengths.”

    That’s the same justification we make for community colleges: Take your general ed courses here, then advance to a more specialized program. The tweak here is to have schools be real centers of excellence, as UW-Platteville long has been for its renowned Education specialty.

    And to Honeybear 3:11 — With respect to SIUE — if it’s all swell, why is enrollment dropping? What if everyone in Illinois knew that, say, SIUE was one of three campuses specializing in pre-med? Or in Humanities master’s degrees? Or in physics/chemistry? Might that quality, that identity, give it the drawing power it now clearly lacks?

    And to MSIX: You’re making the Tribune’s point. All the federal (and state) demands could be met far more efficiently, and better, if we had singular oversight AND quality control.

    Nine boards to oversee 12 universities? Really?

  22. - City Zen - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:31 pm:

    ==Quit being the tool of large corporate interests Trib and learn how a small city and a small university can be successful together.==

    But that small city is in a large metro area (STL). Carbondale, Macomb, and Charleston are not.

  23. - Juvenal - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:32 pm:

    Terrible idea.

    Dumb idea.

    More public policy cut and pasted from the ILlinois Policy Institute about how we could magically fix government without spending any money.

    Three simple facts you can find strewn across the internet if the Chicago Tribune editorial board even bothered to use Google:

    - As many as half of students enter college undeclared in their major;
    - 80% of students will change their major atleast once;
    - the average student changes majors three times.

    17 year olds don’t know what they want to be when the grow up, neither do 20 year olds. In fact, unlike the economy of John McCormick’s childhood, the average American will change careers five times across the course of their life.

    The idea that each university should become a specialty market runs counter to the what today’s economy actually demands.

    Moreover, some of the most lucrative, interesting, and sought-after fields of work occur where once distinct majors now intersect and overlap.

    Finance + Computer Science = blockchain

    Did I mention this is a giant step backward for higher ed?

  24. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:34 pm:

    Change the orientation from being about keeping people on the payroll to serving students as customers.

  25. - Blue Bayou - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:38 pm:

    All of the generalities spouted by the Trib in terms of what can be done “best” all depend on the same question: according to whom?

    What’s best for students in getting an education? Well, it depends. Do you want office workers who can do specific tasks? Or people with various skills they can apply to different demands and situations? Do you want these people to be able to think independently and have solid critical thinking skills? Should they know how to write well and read quickly with accuracy?

    A university is not a machine that stamps out a product. It’s a complex entity that takes different kinds of people and moves them along as far as it is able.

    Some state unis serve traditional populations and others don’t. Some are residential and others are commuter. Some urban, some rural. And so on.

    Bottom line: It’s easy for the Trib or other bystanders to suggest magic wands to be waved at complex issues. But it’s hard to run a large educational system. If you first admit that, then you can roll up your sleeves and get to work.

    Oh, also, if you’re for slashing budgets, you aren’t serious about making things work better.

  26. - Robert the Bruce - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:39 pm:

    Merging boards specifically doesn’t necessarily save money. By merging boards, you lose board members, who have egos and are capable of writing, or not writing. large checks.

  27. - Access&Affordability - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:41 pm:

    I guess I would ask the Trib and others to actually look at more comprehensive data to determine which of the existing public universities best demonstrate the qualities we are apparently looking for? Keeping tuition as low as possible, spending as little as possible on administration, and showing the most success in terms of student outcomes (grad and retention rates) as compared to their peers both in state and out of state? In many cases the institutions that keep making the headlines with stories about extravagant spending and overpaid (and sometimes unethical) administrators are the very institutions these proposals indicate should be considered as models or leaders in a new centralized system. Also, these sorts of proposals often make it sound like Illinois is “paying” all these trustees on these individual university governing boards. Those are unpaid positions. Pretending that changing the title of the President of MidState U to Chancellor for U of I - MidState is going to achieve a significant cost savings is silly. What we can be certain of is that the system level apparatus will expand rapidly and exponentially in such a scheme. Also California and New York operate 2 systems each. Califoria has the Cal State system (regional access) and the U Cal system (research focus). New York has SUNY and CUNY systems.

  28. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:42 pm:

    To the nay-sayers, just on the premise side…

    ===Do these leaders need a model? Tell them to check out what’s happening in Wisconsin’s single, centrally overseen system. New York and California also have rebalanced their offerings statewide===

    The SUNY, Cal, and UW Systems have done far better in trying to meet their mission(s), due in part that the states these systems are located appreciate the value of higher ed more than Illinois has in quite some time, and especially since Rauner has refused to fully fund yearly illinois’ higher ed.

    I’d like the discussion, with those very specific models, and have an honest discussion to keep the facilities and maximize the offering(s) and opportunities for Illinois.

    I’m not saying “do it already”, but let’s really talk with real models and get something to discuss and options.

  29. - In 630 - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:44 pm:

    The idea of bloated University administration strikes me as a cousin to the “waste, fraud, and abuse” magical thinking that people have about the budget- the regional universities remind me a local governments operating with just enough worker bees to get by. Meanwhile the bigger problem is that state funding itself has eroded so much over time that the universities have been set adrift by the state, and can’t meet the core function of affordability and access that they’re there for.

  30. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:46 pm:

    === With respect to SIUE — if it’s all swell, why is enrollment dropping?===

    SIUE’s enrollment has surged.

  31. - SKI - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:47 pm:

    How can Illinois make its higher ed system more attractive to students? Having a stable government where they don’t have to worry about the government holding back funds for political gains would help. The budget fiasco started this mess and have drove students to look elsewhere. Students will continue to look to other states so they don’t have to deal with uncertainty as long as the state is operating under the ‘create a crisis plan’ for governance.

    These ideas would help, but it will not do much unless potential students have faith that their universities will continue to be properly funded.

  32. - illini - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:54 pm:

    Many on this site know of my feelings about my Alma Mater, but also know that there are many times when I take off my Orange and Blue Blinders and realize that there are compelling reasons to keep our Regionals strong and competitive.

    Surprising I find myself in some agreement with parts of the Tribune article.

    Willy has been suggesting for some time the “Lincoln University” System and this makes a lot of sense as long as the UofI is separate from the Regionals. Chances of this happening in my lifetime may not be great, but this is a definite starting point.

    The “politics” of trying to accomplish that would be monumental.

    Honeybear I am old enough to remember when SIUE did not exist and fully recognize that it is probably an exception to the rule as far as being a success in comparison to other Regionals. And even though its enrollment is very close to SIUC, some problems still exist that should be addressed.

    And realistically, all Regionals share many of the same problems that can only be addressed as a group since they are all dependent on state funding, MAP grants etc. and are vying for some of the same students.

    A more centralized “System” would hopefully avoid some of the self-inflicted woulds that some campuses have suffered through.

    But all is dependent on a reliable and stable source of funding.

  33. - cover - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:55 pm:

    What was the Trib’s opinion of Gov. Edgar’s move to abolish the Board of Regents and the Board of Governors, which between them oversaw all but the U of I and SIU schools? From my understanding, that plan - passed by the GOP-controlled 89th General Assembly - was intended to pit the smaller schools into competition with one another for resources, rather than as a unit. Whether intentionally or not, that seems to have been the result over the past 20 years.

  34. - cover - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:58 pm:

    rather than “seeking those resources” as a unit - sorry, hit send too quickly

  35. - MSIX - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 3:58 pm:

    =And to MSIX: You’re making the Tribune’s point. All the federal (and state) demands could be met far more efficiently, and better, if we had singular oversight AND quality control.=

    Explain how it would. It’s easy to say such things, but I’ve never heard anyone come close to explaining how it would be better for some central office dozens or hundreds of miles away to say, meet an immediate need to solve an ADA issue or address an IT issue.

  36. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 4:01 pm:

    Gov. Rauner starved the 9 universities until some nearly died; now let’s take a scalpel to some school’s specific programs and see what else we cam cut?

    Look, consolidation is not without merit but the Trib and their favorite governor have to show they understand higher ed better before they can claim to lead that sort of conversation.

  37. - Wondering - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 4:03 pm:

    Seems a return to yesteryear is in order. Fund the universities and the problem will go away. All else is hogwash.

  38. - Chad - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 4:06 pm:

    Dan Johnson has it spot-on. All post-secondary players I the public space are operating under 1950’s priorities. The whole system needs reform. Won’t happen from within though. The GA would have to impose its will.

  39. - DeseDemDose - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 4:06 pm:

    Governor Rauners word is worthless and senseless. Ask Ms.Radogno…and the rest of his merry men. Unfortunately the worst may be yet to come. The benefit of the doubt has long left the station.

  40. - Honeybear - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 4:07 pm:

    Although the graph was small I believe SIUE gained students.
    Maybe Rich can confirm that. SIUE has no problem attracting students, mostly from Illinois despite MO offering in state tuition to metro east illinois students.
    Beautiful campus, excellent faculty, high quality education
    No need for your centralization scam
    Find your austerity justification elsewhere.

  41. - City Zen - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 4:08 pm:

    ==How can Illinois make its higher ed system more attractive to students? Having a stable government where they don’t have to worry about the government holding back funds for political gains would help.==

    Father: Son, I see you’ve narrowed down your college choices. Good start. Lots of variety here. So, what’s your #1 priority? Strength in your major? School size? Get as far away from mom and dad as possible? Campus lifestyle? Athletics? What is it, son?

    Son: A stable government.

    Father: (Pulls property tax bill out of drawer and shakes head in disbelief)

  42. - Ghost - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 4:09 pm:

    The 5 big states are CA, Texas, Fl, NY and IL.

    How do we compare to those other states in number of state schools?

  43. - Honeybear - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 4:11 pm:

    88% of SIUE students are from Illinois Zen City

  44. - Honeybear - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 4:26 pm:

    I would also like to point out that Rep. Katie Stuart defeated Dwight Kay in part because of Rauners attack on higher Ed. Stuart you will remember was adjunct faculty at SIUE.
    SIUE students and faculty pulled heavily for her.
    It can be argued that SIUE was a deciding factor since the county went for Trump by a small margin
    And yes I’m remembering Kay’s misogynistic remarks.
    That didn’t keep Trump down.
    I argue that it was SIUE that put her over the line.
    Squeeze the education beast for corporate tax cuts is
    Malum in se

  45. - Chad - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 4:27 pm:

    The just-departed NIU Pres was run out of town for a number of reasons, including his interest in having the GA look into a new higher ed arrangement for that region. His board, alumni, unions, faculty and students hated him for even suggesting a conversation. Any higher ed administer or alumni leader who breathes a word of structural reform will be immediately and reflexivly demonized.

    By the way, the last higher ed reform started out by giving NIU its own board. U of I then demanded SSU as its price, then Kustra gave all the regionals their own boards. There was a lot of cash back then and every regional dreamed of becoming “comprehensive.”

  46. - Someone you should know - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 5:13 pm:

    So wait a minute, 22 years ago, I was one of the only student leaders who fought against the Kustra Higher ed plan. Does this mean I was right? Wow!!!

  47. - peon - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 5:31 pm:

    Good grief.

    Will the next editorial ask the social service agencies what they can do to produce an uptick in clients served ? This seems to have dropped for similar inexplicable reasons since 2015.

  48. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 6:39 pm:

    City @ 4:08

    So what does make kids choose where they go? Assuming that it actually is the kids making that decision. It’d be interesting to poll both parents (who would cite stability in funding) vs. college bound students and who had the upper hand in that decision.

  49. - Smitty Irving - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 6:58 pm:

    Seriously, an excellent idea (as long as a majority of the governing body don’t have any connection to U of I - that said as an immigrant who did not attend college in Illinois). Snarkily, since the current system (Public Act 89-0004) was established in the 2 year “interregnum” where Newt Gingrich “installed” Lee Daniels as Speaker, what did Kristen McQueary’s predecessors of that era think/say about it?

  50. - Retired Prof - Wednesday, Sep 13, 17 @ 11:04 pm:

    Someone ought to tell the Trib about the BHE.

  51. - PublicServant - Thursday, Sep 14, 17 @ 6:32 am:

    Universities teach a broad range of subject areas for the same reason we have supermarkets.

  52. - Barrington - Thursday, Sep 14, 17 @ 7:31 am:

    Isn’t that why we have graduate schools.

  53. - AllyB - Thursday, Sep 14, 17 @ 11:56 am:

    I don’t disagree that there are some cost savings to be had by unifying some of the governance of the public HEI. But to Juvenal’s point - kids out of high school don’t always know what they want to go into until they start taking classes in college. Even if you make transferring from one institution to another (not as easy as it sounds even with mobile undergraduate students), you would have to regionalize the graduate programs also. Many faculty teach in both undergraduate and graduate programs. Graduate programs cater to working adults, with students that select their programs largely based on geographical considerations. Rural areas are already complaining about not having enough quality principal or superintendent candidates. They would be greatly impacted if their best and brightest educators can’t get higher credentials without moving. And that is just one tiny example of the many problems with Rauner’s idea.

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