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DIETZ: A time to arise and thrive at Illinois State University

DIETZ: A time to arise and thrive at Illinois State University

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We have all spent the last year coming to grips with sadness and loss, fear and anxiety, and a complete disruption of every routine during the world’s worst health crisis in our lifetimes.

Illinois State University — like every school, business, organization, family and individual — has been greatly impacted by COVID-19. We were forced to change how we teach and learn, how we conduct university operations and how we interact with each other. Face coverings, physical distancing and testing became our routine.

We are very optimistic about a move back to a more traditional on-campus experience this fall with students in the classroom, living in on-campus housing and participating in in-person events and activities. As we plan for the 2021-22 academic year, Illinois State will continue to follow the science as reflected through COVID-19 mitigation directives and protocols designated by national, state and local health and government leaders. 

Despite the myriad challenges presented by this pandemic, Illinois State has continued to move forward with its teaching and research mission. I reflect on what has been achieved at Illinois State University during this most challenging of times.

Illinois State enrolled 20,720 students during the 2020-21 academic year. We experienced a 13.4% increase in African American, first-time-in-college students, and for Latinx students in the same category, the increase surpassed 12%. The number of Illinois first-time-in-college students from the lowest income categories rose over 9%.

Illinois State remained in the nation’s top echelon for graduation and retention rates, programmatic quality rankings, value for investment, and military friendliness. The fact that the university also exceeded its consistent performance in several areas is a testament to the quality and the unyielding commitment of our students, faculty, staff and alumni.

Since March 2020, in addition to the $250 million that is annually distributed in total financial aid from federal, state and institutional sources to Illinois State students, the University has distributed to approximately 10,500 students more than $8 million in emergency relief funds provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and $500,000 in institutional relief and scholarship funds, and most recently, more than $7.2 million provided through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund II .

We are excited about current and upcoming projects such as the cybersecurity project at Julian Hall and the Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts Rehabilitation Project. This fall, we will open a new Multicultural Center, and the revitalization of the Bone Student Center was completed this spring.

Illinois State also completed its second comprehensive fundraising campaign — Redbirds Rising — which raised over $180 million for the future of leadership, scholarship and innovation at at the university.

We remain grateful that the State of Illinois has provided a stable source of funding for Illinois State University and other schools during this difficult time. Thus far, the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Illinois State is $78 million, including refunds, lost revenues, and expenses for cleaning, health and safety goods and services, and additional technology required to deliver coursework over virtual platforms. Federal relief funding has helped offset those losses, but to date, costs still exceed $53 million.

We all have a long road ahead as we move into a future altered by COVID-19. By working together, the Illinois State University community will continue to meet the challenges that arise and will continue to thrive.

Larry Dietz is president of Illinois State University.


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