BLOOMINGTON — Al Bowman, Illinois State University president emeritus, was named Wednesday the executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

“The challenges facing higher education in Illinois mirror, for the most part, what's going on nationally,” said Bowman, 64. That includes competition for state tax dollars.

“A number of states across the country are seeing a reduction in support,” he said.

However, Illinois faces additional challenges.

“The Midwest is seeing a slight decrease in the pool of 18-year-olds,” which compounds another problem, said Bowman. “We have for many years been a major exporter of students.” 

Bowman succeeds James Applegate, who stepped down from the post in February after three years on the job. He served as ISU president from 2003 to May 2013. He came to ISU in 1978 as a faculty member in the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology, now known as the Department of Communications Sciences and Disorders.

He later served as department chair and interim provost before becoming president and also served as co-chairman of the education policy committee on Gov. Bruce Rauner's transition team after Rauner's election in 2014.

Bowman called the new position "a real good fit — not only with my campus experience but my knowledge of higher education trends.”

Among the keys to addressing Illinois' challenges are keeping college accessible and affordable, providing more budgetary stability and emphasizing the importance of post-secondary education and training, according to Bowman.

“One of the messages I plan to carry forward to the governor and legislature is that, while the number of dollars is important, even more important is stability and predictability so colleges and universities can plan,” said Bowman.

Among tasks in which Bowman will be involved is the current update of the board's strategic plan, “Illinois Public Agenda for College and Career Success.”

The IBHE oversees the state's system of colleges and universities. Its duties include planning and policy development, budget responsibilities, grant programs and program reviews. There are 35 employees in its Springfield office.

Bowman said he was approached about becoming executive director by Tom Cross, chair of the 15-member board. Cross is a former state representative and House Republican minority leader with whom Bowman had met numerous times working on appropriations for ISU.

Cross praised Bowman's “strong commitment to excellence in undergraduate and graduate education” as well as access and affordability.

At the time he retired as ISU president, Bowman cited health problems, but he said Wednesday that he is in good health and it wouldn't be a problem in his new position.

“In retrospect, I wasn't ready to retire at age 60,” he said.

He will be paid $150,000 as executive director, which allows him to continue to collect the pension he receives for his more than 30 years of working at ISU. Applegate's salary was $200,000.

Bowman and his wife Linda will continue to live in Bloomington while he commutes to Springfield.

Since retiring as president, Bowman has been teaching one course each fall at ISU without compensation. He is wrapping up an eight-week seminar course he has been teaching at ISU and said he will not be teaching as long as he is the IBHE's executive director. He has signed a one-year contract.

Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter: @pg_sobota

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