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IBHE exec director not keen on a big reorganization

Friday, Jul 12, 2019

* The Tribune has published yet another editorial about its “solutions” for higher education. Here’s one bit

Pause to let that sink in: Nearly half of public school students spurn the universities their own families’ tax dollars built, and support, in order to leave Illinois — often just across the border to Wisconsin, Indiana and Iowa. Some flee farther: The University of Alabama is a much more popular destination for Chicago-area kids than you’d imagine.

Those states have invested big bucks in their schools’ infrastructure, something that the Trib is skeptical about doing in Illinois

That’s why you get so much unimaginative overlap, such as both Eastern Illinois University and Western Illinois now in line to get $100 million science buildings. The rationale is that both schools need new science buildings … to continue doing business as usual. Never mind that, at both universities, enrollment has plummeted.

Um, maybe enrollment is plummeting partly because the state hasn’t made the proper investments? EIU’s current science building is a joke. And the Tribune, remember, was all about the impasse, which just about killed off three or four universities in this state. No planning. Just death. So smart.

Here’s another excerpt

What should be done to improve school performance and attract more students? Pritzker, a businessman who surely sees that many of the universities have lost their luster, can demand that they specialize in certain areas of academic focus. Sure, let each offer some courses in all major disciplines, but concentrate upper-level offerings in each field at one or two campuses. Pritzker also can demand answers to questions that boards and administrators always duck: Should some of Illinois’ dwindling universities merge? Given demographic trends, should any of them be mothballed? Should one or two evolve into, say, residential community colleges with two-year career training?

And then

We asked Nyle Robinson, interim executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, if a rethink is in the cards. We were glad to hear him, too, say the arrival of a new governor “is an obvious time to have such discussions.”

* I emailed the IBHE about Robinson’s comment and the editorial…

One of the things the Tribune suggested in that editorial was merging and/or mothballing universities. Does ED Robinson share that view? What other points does he agree with in that editorial?

* From Nyle Robinson, interim executive director, IBHE…

We are always happy to have a new governor’s interest in higher education. We are particularly pleased with Gov. Pritzker’s commitment to this sector for many reasons, including the fact that the health of a state’s economy is tied to the health of its higher education. The FY 2020 budget was the best for higher education operations since at least FY 02. It also was the best capital program for higher education in decades. However, one good year will not fix the damage of decades of disinvestment. Universities and community colleges received a 5% increase for FY 20. In FY 16 they only received 30% of what they received in FY 15 and the budget impasse ended with a permanent 10% decrease in FY 18.

Those facts must be taken into account when considering what Illinois wants, and needs, its higher education system to be. Community colleges, public universities, and private colleges are constantly reviewing its programs and structures. Coursework is updated, majors and minors change as employment needs shift, and institutions evolve to meet the demands of the workforce and students. College and university staff meet regularly with employers to align coursework with job needs. Unfortunately, during the budget impasse, many colleges and universities were pushed into making the cuts they could make in the short term to lower costs quickly, rather than making strategic choices.

However, a confluence of events makes this an ideal time to look at Illinois higher education system. There being a new Governor who has expressed support for higher education, both in his words and in his deeds. We are in the second year of budget stability and at the start of a six-year capital program, after a long drought in capital support. That will modernize and refresh campuses. Making them more attractive to perspective students.

In addition, the state higher education master plan is ten years old. It is the time modernize it as well. IBHE has started work on a new plan and we have had initial discussions with the Governor’s office about how to best undertake the gathering of input. Everything should be on the table in such a process.

But, as a 33-year veteran of state government, I am skeptical of reorganizations. Reorganizations are certain to cause disruption, but the benefits are less certain. It is easier to envision the upsides than it is to see the barriers. Also, while universities may benefit from highlighting their top programs, the downsides of cutting programs too severely must be considered. While the state is concerned about outmigration, the fact is most students will start school within 100 miles of their home. This is particularly true of poor and minority students, who are making up an ever-increasing portion of the student population and isolating programs in different, possibly remote, portions of a large state will make them inaccessible to older students with jobs and family responsibilities. Just one example, stripping programs from Eastern will only make Indiana schools more attractive, some of them are closer than other Illinois schools. Also, it is better and easier to connect students with jobs close to where they are studying.

Higher education is dynamic and evolving. The workforce is evolving. The student population is evolving. New modes of delivering higher education are becoming more prevalent, and attractive. We believe that reforms of our state system are merited but reorganization is not likely to be the most productive way of responding to the changing landscape. [Emphasis added]

Pretty thoughtful response.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - JT - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 3:25 pm:

    I have worked at WIU, UIS, and SIU. When these discussions about concentrating programs on certain campuses are brought up, it is usually with very little data; how many students are enrolled and/or graduate from the program. However, there is a richer body of data available if you include the experts, the institutional research staff at these schools. They can tell you how many non-physics majors are enrolled in physics courses, how many non-chemistry majors are enrolled in chemistry courses, etc. Not just at the general education/lower level, but in the upper level as well. If you cut one program because it doesn’t have enough majors, you hurt other programs.
    There is also something called the cost study. Unfortunately IBHE scaled this back but some of the schools still have all the data. If you cut a physics or chemistry program at WIU or EIU, they still have to offer lower division courses. So you still have the costs of lab space, faculty, etc. Keeping the major adds to the cost but only incrementally. Since these schools have graduate programs who use the same spaces and faculty, again the incremental cost is not prohibitive.

  2. - Scamp640 - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 3:25 pm:

    That is a pretty thoughtful response.

    Students and their families might be viewed, in part, as consumers. As any consumer will tell you, they prefer selection and options. When you cut programs from a university, you reduce its desirability as a destination for students.

    There is talk among some legislators of cutting programs and reducing duplication between universities. However, this assumes that every freshman student knows exactly what they want to major in when they arrive during their first semester. The reality is that many students will change their majors at least once. A university must offer at least some choice to these students so that they don’t have to transfer to pursue other degree options. Forcing transfers is a recipe for student dropout.

    In my humble opinion, the simplest strategy for increasing the number of Illinois high school students attending Illinois universities is to increase state support for higher education. Help reduce the cost of tuition and make Illinois universities cost competitive with neighboring states. It is a pretty straightforward remedy.

    It turns out that if you want to promote quality, affordable, higher education, you have to invest in it. There are no shortcuts.

    By the way, it would not be a bad idea for the IBHE to undertake a statewide marketing initiative to promote Illinois higher education to Illinoisans. Rauner spent four years starving higher education and generating bad press for our universities. The IBHE should take the lead on marketing the Illinois higher education brand.

  3. - Honeybear - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 3:33 pm:

    Ugh…the malignantly callous Trib.
    It was a thoughtful response from IBHE Director.

    I hope with the new funding they will hire more faculty and expand the STEM schools to enrollment from Illinois students.
    I’d like to see a concerted effort to attract and keep our Illinois students

    Instead of filling the STEM schools with foreign students.
    U of Illinois has the second largest foreign student population in the US.
    That was a great strategy during the lean Rauner years I’m sure.

    But that kept well qualified Illinois students
    It’s fine and dandy to increase enrollment overall
    But I’d like to see more enrollment
    Illinois in the STEM fields.

  4. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 3:34 pm:

    ===The University of Alabama is a much more popular destination for Chicago-area kids than you’d imagine.===

    Roll… Tide?

    ===Those states have invested big bucks in their schools’ infrastructure, something that the Trib is skeptical about doing in Illinois…===

    At the University of Alabama, for a six year period, the university claimed every 90 days, a new building would begin to be built to change the university.

    The commitment to infrastructure at these poaching universities, outside an Alabama of Iowa, Iowa State, is an enticing thing.

    Here’s the rub. Here’s what makes my chili run hot…

    ===maybe enrollment is plummeting partly because the state hasn’t made the proper investments? EIU’s current science building is a joke. And the Tribune, remember, was all about the impasse, which just about killed off three or four universities in this state. No planning. Just death. So smart.===

    To the very thoughtful, and detailed response, I’d like to keep that kind of thinking and dialog rolling… to stop the Roll Tide.

  5. - Last Of The Moderates - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 3:45 pm:

    Well said by Nyle Robinson.

    The state should also consider a New York type program in which we provide small forgivable loans to all Illinois high school graduates. I wouldn’t envision amounts that completely offset full tuition but 20,000 over 4 years would help retain students in Illinois programs. More importantly, if these loans are forgiven by remaining a state resident over a period of time, this helps offset outmigration that occurs as new grads look outside the state for opportunities.

    We would grow the tax base by retaining more graduates—thereby offsetting (in whole or in part) some of the expense of the program. For those that leave, they can pay the state back.

  6. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 3:48 pm:

    To my comment on Alabama’s growth…

    Add this to it; Fraternities and Sororities and $200+ million in a capital program;

    My point?

    After the Trib did that article on the University of Alabama, it’s been interesting to see how they’ve gone about their business.

    I guess they’re renovating the football and basketball stadiums too.

    Narrator: the previous administration wanted to starve higher education.

  7. - hulk logan - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 3:54 pm:

    It’s not the infrastructure driving the decision. When parents see the tuition and mandatory fees for Illinois state schools, they quickly become more open to out of state options where the out of state tuition gets you a better or similar school at equal or lower prices.

  8. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 3:57 pm:

    ===When parents see the tuition and mandatory fees for Illinois state schools, they quickly become more open to out of state options where the out of state tuition gets you a better or similar school at equal or lower prices.===

    … throw in merit scholarships, throw in out of state enticing by athletics…. creature comforts… and you’re “not alone” as you see more Illinoisans in your classes then you’d ever believe.

    The money, the fun, the comfort… going away from Illinois is the more comfortable decision?

    We need to do better.

  9. - AnonymousOne - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 4:02 pm:

    There is one simple solution. Decrease instate tuition to harvest worthy students who are the products of our own state education. Illinois high school students should have priority over those from foreign countries—and other states. That’s exactly what other states do

    University of Iowa’s tuition when my kids were there had out of staters pay almost triple. And most merit and legacy scholarship money was for instate students.

    It’s almost as if in our treatment of our own high school grads we are looking to drive them out. Not a great return on investment on our K-12 system, ya think.

    Even paying so much more than instate students, with merit scholarship our kids costs were still less than ILlinois. Families can only afford so much

  10. - Pot calling kettle - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 4:03 pm:

    Higher Ed in Illinois is at a crossroads. Do we choose to invest or divest?

    Rauner chose to divest and pushed more students to leave the state or forego higher education. Gov. Pritzker has committed to turning things around. He recognizes that one way to stop people from leaving Illinois is to keep them here for college. He also recognizes that to attract businesses in the knowledge economy, we need a pool of college grads. He further recognizes that higher ed research provides the seeds that grow into new businesses.

    The bottom line is that investing in higher ed pays off in many ways. If the Trib wants to be pro-business and pro-Illinois, they need to be pro-higher ed and recognize the key role higher ed plays in any pro-growth strategy.

  11. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 4:06 pm:

    ===The bottom line is that investing in higher ed pays off in many ways. …

    …to be pro-business and pro-Illinois, … need to be pro-higher ed and recognize the key role higher ed plays in any pro-growth strategy.===

    This was the bedrock formula of the GOP in Illinois.

    Raunerism bought the brand and made the “ILGOP” anti-labor, anti-infrastructure, and anti-higher education.

    There’s the real headline;

    Will the Trib start being a traditional Republican paper again?

    Answer: No

  12. - hulk logan - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 4:09 pm:

    == The money, the fun, the comfort… going away from Illinois is the more comfortable decision?==

    Spot on, plus Chicago and the rest of the State is still available to them in 4 years for work and/or graduate school.

  13. - JIbba - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 4:14 pm:

    I like that the response is not dogmatic. He talks of gathering data and considering approaches, plus new ways of education delivery. It certainly suggests that decisions are not predetermined, which is a refreshing change.

    My view: increase enrollment at EIU, SIUC, and WIU through new/better delivery (e.g., 3 year degree program, focus on student education before research, new payment options such as percent of income for a set period of time after graduation, provide better financial aid, etc.). If a university or two can not return to enrollment near capacity after a few years, closure must be on the table. No university can operate at half capacity (or less) forever. Better performing universities such as ISU and SIUE might be put on a faster track toward adding desired (expensive) programs and facilities such as engineering. More focus on capacity and programs in metro areas is suggested by his comment that most students start school within 100 miles of home (SIUE, NIU, UIC, etc).

  14. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 4:31 pm:

    For the record, my “Lincoln University” pod system;

    The downstate directionals, SIUC, EIU, and WIU would need to be a pod of universities marketed and built in similar images, but mirroring what best represents their individuality, while taking advantage of the system.

    NIU, ISU and SIUE, the vertical podding of northern, central and southern Illinois with like-styled universities would be a second prong and while part abd parcel of the Lincoln University system, keeping their branded name identity might be a strong asset for these very specific schools… and so on.

    The third pod… Governors State, Chicago State, and Northeastern, the “Chicagoland” pod of Lincoln University schools would be Lincoln University branded.

    Nine universities, three pods, one umbrella…

    It’s neither simple or a solution, but it’s a discussion I’d like to see/hear, then move outside talk to try to save higher education in Illinois.

    My hope is that will be taken in the same spirit… as the response Rich got above from Director Robinson.

  15. - Rich Miller - Saturday, Jul 13, 19 @ 4:42 pm:

    ===When parents see the tuition and mandatory fees for Illinois state schools===

    Yep. And you know the biggest reason why those are high? Because of lack of state support, including for infrastructure.


  16. - KH1037 - Monday, Jul 15, 19 @ 10:45 am:

    I went to University of Alabama in the early 80’s primarily because I was a self supporting full time student. Back then, the cost of living in Alabama was so low that I could work full time and live well as a full time student. I went back a year ago and the campus looks great and it is reasonable for a lot of parents. I graduated with $25,000 in debt that was paid off before I was 30.

    I had one child who went to U of I but they cater to the foreign students who pay more to attend. She was lost in the crowd of smart kids and it was not always a positive experience. But she went on to their law school right before their pay to play scandal broke out. A lot of those kids had a hard time finding employment. She also has $250,000 in student loans mostly from law school but paying for U of I was hard.

    My next kid visited several in-state schools and also went to Mizzou to visit. He saw what they were offering and did not even apply anywhere else but Mizzou. They offered better scholarships and their programs/facilities were very nice. He came away with no debt.

    We are consumers and if your product is not better and/or competitive, no one is going to pay for it out of some concept of state loyalty.

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