092217-blm-loc-1stateofisu

Illinois State University President Larry Dietz emphasizes a point in his speech during the annual State of the University address Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017 at the ISU Center for the Performing Arts, Normal.

LEWIS MARIEN, THE PANTAGRAPH

NORMAL — Illinois State University President Larry Dietz on Thursday thanked students and faculty for enduring two years without a state budget and shared plans for the future of the university.

Dietz delivered his annual State of the University message to an audience of nearly 400 at the ISU Center for the Performing Arts.

“The past two years of political and fiscal gridlock have taken a harsh toll on all of us who work in Illinois’ colleges,” he said. “The constant barrage of partisan finger-pointing and delaying tactics acted as a daily stressor.”

ISU’s state operating appropriation for fiscal year 2018 is just over $65 million, said Dietz, “$7.2 million less than the pre-impasse fiscal year 2015 budget.”

He said ISU received $20.9 million from the state in 2016, and that the last time the state's appropriation dropped that low was during the 1960s.

In the four years he has served the university, Dietz said he has “not once asked for greater amounts of funding” from Springfield.

“What I have respectfully requested is a measure of predictability, an effort to maintain fiscal stability, and a willingness to engage in bipartisan conversations about the future of public higher education in Illinois,” said Dietz.

Despite the years of uncertainty accompanying the impasse, Dietz said the university has “weathered the political storm” by boosting graduate enrollment, lowering debt burdens and careful spending.

With more financial security this year, Dietz said ISU will funnel $12 million to supplement Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants and additional investments to merit-based scholarships.

“In addition, I have doubled the budget in a University College program that provides tools to help raise the retention and graduation rates for underrepresented, first generation and financially at-risk students,” said Dietz.

He said new learning opportunities for students are coming to campus, including the introduction of a cyber security major this fall. Dietz announced plans to establish engineering programs and online degree programs in the future.

Dietz also touched on adjustments being made to the university’s strategic plan that has been renamed “Educate, Connect, Elevate.”

He said new values have been added to the plan — collaboration and respect. Collaboration shows “a commitment to our internal dedication to shared governance” and respect shows that “differences of belief and opinion can be expressed with civility,” said Dietz.

Lastly, Dietz addressed the recent launch of ISU’s most ambitious fundraising campaign, Redbirds Rising: The Campaign for Illinois State. More than $103 million have been raised for the campaign, with a goal of $150 million by 2020.

Follow Julia Evelsizer on Twitter: @pg_evelsizer

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Reporter for The Pantagraph.

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