NORMAL — Diminished state financial support is only one challenge facing Illinois State University, President Al Bowman said Thursday in his annual State of the University address.
The university also must be prepared for a declining number of high school graduates and respond to changing demographics and increased competition from higher education providers within and outside of Illinois, he said.
Therefore, Bowman is directing top administrators, working with others on campus, to develop “a new long-range financial plan that ensure the continued quality, strength and viability of the university in these uncertain and turbulent times.”
Despite concerns expressed about state financial support in general and the uncertainty caused by unresolved pension issues, Bowman was generally upbeat in his address.
He noted that while other universities — public and private — are struggling or at risk, ISU is “financially sound” and has made “remarkable progress” in the past 10 years in breaking “from the common pack of mid-level universities.”
Among accomplishments cited by Bowman were historic highs in graduation and retention rates as well as the grade point averages and ACT averages of incoming students. He also noted high rankings given to several academic programs, upgraded facilities and strides made in private fundraising to offset dwindling state resources.
“Still, the economic threats on our near horizon are very real,” Bowman said.
ISU’s state appropriation of $74.1 million is equivalent to the state support it received in 1997, Bowman said.
“State support in Illinois has evaporated to under 19 percent of operating expenses, and costs that used to be the responsibility of the state have now been placed on our shoulders,” Bowman said.
Dan Holland, a physics professor who is head of ISU’s Academic Senate, said after the speech that, to a large extent, the faculty is behind Bowman and the course he is setting.
Holland shared Bowman’s concern for what the president described as “the de-prioritization of public higher education in Illinois.”
Holland is worried about “the public perception that higher education is an individual rather than a public good. … The reason we got to be the most dynamic economy in the world is because of access to higher education. … Now it is becoming so expensive for students, it’s putting it out of reach for some.”
In outlining what the long-range financial plan must accomplish, Bowman included maintaining the affordability of an ISU education in addition to maintaining high-quality academics, strengthening enrollment competitiveness and diversifying ISU’s revenue base.