* 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?