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State of the University addresses retention and reorganization, budget challenges

Daily Egyptian SIUC

Thursday, November 7, 2019  |  Article  |  By Keaton Yates, Staff Reporter

Education--Higher (37)

The interim chancellor announced the hiring of 22 new tenure and tenure track faculty, the creation of seven new schools and the removal of the term “interim” from administrative positions at the State of the University Address.

Interim Chancellor John Dunn said seven new schools were launched July 1. Five additional schools have been approved to start in January 2020 and two colleges resulting from reorganization are being considered by the Faculty Senate and the Graduate Council. 

Along with new schools, new programs and certificates are being added in targeted growth areas, Dunn said. 

“Most notable are the undergraduate programs in business analytics and nursing as well as professional doctoral programs in physical and occupational therapy.” Dunn said.

A new organized structure, new programs, and new faculty all contribute to the transition of SIU’s academic enterprise, Dunn said.

As of November 2018, over 40 positions in administration were considered interim. 

To improve enrollment, SIU is incorporating new recruitment initiatives, Dunn said. Some of these include new degree programs, changes to scholarships, academic engagement and more outreach.

“There’s more, but I hope you can see the tremendous focus we have on student recruitment,” Dunn said. “Retention is as important as recruitment.”

Some of the retention initiatives include an early warning program, reinvigorating the University 101 course, accelerating master’s programs and new student programs, Dunn said. To ensure both recruitment and retention, SIU is focusing on committing support to every single student, he said.

The early warning program will identify students who may need extra support, Dunn said.

“Each of us must be mindful that we need to provide the personal, tailored support [students] need in order to ensure that they are welcomed,” Dunn said.

Enrollment declined this fall by 8.75% to 11,695 students. Retention in the freshman to sophomore class was 67% in fall 2017, rising to 75% in fall 2019.

SIU is one of the two universities participating in SMASH Illinois, a three-year free residential college preparatory program targeting high school students from traditionally underrepresented communities, Dunn said.

Since 2003, 175 SIU students have participated in the McNair Scholars Program, Dunn said. The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and prepares members of underserved groups and low-income and first generation students for careers as graduate students, professors and researchers.

SIU has a number of offices dedicated to supporting diversity and inclusion on campus, and the Student Multicultural Resource Centers are central to engaging students, Dunn said.

“We must do more to ensure that all communities feel welcome and supported on our campus,” Dunn said. “The work is not yet finished.”

Although there was a large drop-of in research funding in 2017 due to the state budget impasse, SIU is now realizing an upswing in research funding over the last two years, Dun said.

“While our funding from the state dropped by more than $6 million dollars, our share of funding increased by more than $11 million,” Dunn said.

Although the school is working toward better enrollment, there are budget challenges. The increase in state funding is very welcome, but it is still 5% less than what SIU received just five years ago, Dunn said.

The minimum wage increase could cost more than $6 million annually when it is fully implanted on July 1, 2025, Dunn said. He said it is the right thing to do, however it is a financial reality SIU must manage.

“In addition, as a 150-year-old institution,” Dunn said, “we have significant deferred maintenance needs for our aging facilities beyond what the state is able to support at this time.”

Deferred maintenance is maintenance that has been postponed to save costs or meet budget funding levels. 

SIU will be working on a three-year budget plan that reflects priorities, Dunn said. A top priority, he said, is finding a way to provide regular salary increases for faculty and staff. He said 76% of SIU’s budget is spent on SIU’s most important resource: faculty and staff. 

“All of this is to say we must remain vigilant managing our tight budgets,” Dunn said. “Making student recruitment and retention a top priority will clearly help.”

Forever SIU, a three-year university fundraising campaign, will be coming to a close on Dec. 31, meeting and exceeding its goal with $90 million, Dunn said. Its theme was to focus on students.

The campaign launched in January 2017 and has exceeded its goal of $75 million, according to their website. Most of the money from the campaign goes to academic excellence and scholarships.

2019 marks SIU’s 150th anniversary year and units across campus have been involved in events, challenges, and other activities to mark this significant anniversary, he said.

“I’ve been honored to serve as your chancellor during SIU’s 150th anniversary, a year of transition,” Dunn said. “When asked to step in following the untimely loss of Chancellor Carlo Montemagno, I did so because I care about this institution. I care about its people.”

Dunn said the way to help SIU is to be an advocate for it. 

“You can help move SIU forward by honoring its traditions of academic excellence, diversity and inclusion, and commitment to student success.” Dunn said.