President John G. Peters
October 2, 2003
Ladies and gentlemen, this is my fourth State of the University address, which means, if you’re counting, that I have just completed my third year as president.
From that three-year vantage point, as well as 30 years in the academy, and from my involvement in state and national higher education organizations, I want to broaden my remarks this year to include not only the state of this university, but also of public higher education in America. It is more important than ever for us to take this broader view, and put our situation in context, if we are to come together in charting our future.
For those of you who came here expecting a detailed update on this year’s view of the state budget crisis, my remarks may disappoint. But I think it’s time to focus on causes rather than symptoms, and leadership rather than survival.
While I don’t want this to be another grim budget address, I do want to say from the outset how very grateful I am to our wonderful, dedicated faculty and staff, who have pulled together in a time of great financial distress, and have managed, against great odds, to preserve the academic integrity of our programs and our services to students. Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for all your efforts, your persistence and your abiding faith in this university.
That said, I want to step back for a change and look at the bigger picture of American public higher education today.
Ladies and gentlemen, everything I have seen over the past three years, everything I have read and absorbed, every piece of information I have received from colleagues around the country, everything I have seen and heard since taking office in June of 2000 leads me to the conclusion that this is a watershed moment for American higher education.
I no longer believe, nor do I think many presidents believe, that we are experiencing a temporary blip in the economy, or that recovery and a return to business-as-usual is right around the corner.
What I see, and what I want to talk with you about today, is a fundamental change in the social contract that created and continues to shape public universities. This fundamental change goes far beyond our current state-funding crisis, though clearly they are related.
The change I’m talking about is deeper and farther reaching. It has its challenges and its opportunities, and it will have its winners and its losers.
As I begin, let me lay out some assumptions. I believe that the fundamental changes affecting this and other public universities have to do with the following issues:
These six areas represent the major themes I see guiding our work and shaping our evolution as a university. And lest my introduction has sounded too ominous, let me also say that NIU is well prepared in terms of anticipating and preparing for the changes I’m about to discuss.
Let me begin with a few general observations: I believe that universities have been slow to recognize, and somewhat unwilling to accept, the fundamental change in how we are regarded. It has taken a nationwide crisis in higher education funding for many of us to see the disconnect between our self-image and the image imposed by the public we serve. Generally speaking, Americans today take a much more utilitarian view of higher education, and that is clearly reflected in public policy.
In many respects, we’re a victim of our own success: We’ve done such a good job of educating the citizenry and emphasizing the financial value attached to a college education that it has become, in some respects, a commodity. No longer the sole province of the privileged, a college degree is now considered the standard – the base on which one begins to build a successful life and career.
The fundamental change I am talking about has resulted from:
To both our campus leadership and our elected officials, I would like to pose the following questions:
I believe one step is for us as a campus community and as members of the larger community of American public universities to engage in some serious reflection on our mission.
Historically, public higher education has been thought of as a “public good.” It was an institution whose purpose was largely unassailable, and its support by the broader society underscored that belief.
Our current environment makes it difficult to imagine a public leap of faith like the Morrill Act of 1862, which created the great land-grant universities, “in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes.” Contrast that vote of confidence with the current debate in Congress, where renewal of our most basic charter, the federal Higher Education Act, is surrounded by criticism and threats of conditional funding!
Recent shifts in public policy seem to hint at a changing view: Instead of a “public good,” some leaders seem to think a college education is a private benefit that should be paid for by the user. We see this most clearly in the reductions in student financial aid, and the increasing debt burden on students who finance their education through loans.
There is clearly a disconnect, however, between the opinions of many elected leaders toward higher education and those of the general public. The Chronicle of Higher Education’s annual survey of public opinion shows 91 percent of Americans still agree or strongly agree with the statement that “colleges and universities are among this country’s most valuable resources.” And 90 percent still put public universities near the top of their lists of institutions in which they have the most faith, although we are still evaluated more highly than doctors, lawyers, the news media and all levels of government..
I don’t know what accounts for this disconnect, but I do believe we must re-engage all of our society, perhaps beginning with elected officials, in the notion of higher education as a public good. In so doing, I believe Northern Illinois University can and will emerge as a model for the institution that is founded on and driven by public purpose.
It is not our mission to seek out and teach only “the best and brightest,” though clearly many NIU students do fall into that category. The new social imperative, which is the need to elevate the level of general knowledge of our citizenry in a new, knowledge-based economy, that new focus is one that meshes well with NIU’s historic commitment to access.
The need is so great, and I’m going to elaborate on that in just a moment. The need is so great and the resources so limited that all of American higher education must engage in an exercise of mission clarification and differentiation.
Knowing who we are, knowing whom we serve, knowing how we can best meet the needs of our region, and understanding where we excel – these are the realities that will shape our future and that of every member of the higher education community in the coming decade.
We must be driven by our historical and inherent strengths; and, more importantly, by the needs of our region.
I’d like to focus for a minute on the increasing demand I’ve alluded to several times here. I’m talking, of course, about our students.
Over the course of the next decade, we will see in this country a 15 percent increase in the number of traditional-aged students seeking a college education. Ten years from now, the pool of college students will contain nearly 4 million additional 18-24 year olds.
Nationally, about two-thirds of high school graduates eventually go on to some sort of post-secondary education. Even if that percentage remains steady, the sheer increase in the population will mean an increase of 1.6 million students per year!
We’ve run some projections on how those numbers might play out at NIU, and by the most conservative estimate, we can expect to see an additional 500 – 1,000 new freshmen seeking admission here each year from 2004 to about 2013, when demand peaks. All things being equal, given current admission standards, retention rates and percentage of the market, we would have a student population of about 30,000 students in five years.
Given the current pattern of state support, I can only say that the challenge is clearly before our elected officials to find new ways to help us meet that demand. Without additional support, we will simply have to limit our enrollment to those numbers we can accommodate without sacrificing educational quality.
But wait – it gets more challenging and complex. We will see even greater growth in the numbers of non-traditional students. By 2010, 50 percent of all college students will be working adults over the age of 25. The message here is that jobs lost in the recent recession are, for the most part, gone forever. Jobs that don’t require a college degree are dwindling. In short, there will be no let up in the increased demand for continuing education delivered throughout the region. And as if those numbers aren’t sobering enough, consider this: About 85 percent of the additional demand in the coming decade will be from minority and low-income students.
Among the changes guiding our evolution as an institution, the sheer number of students who need our services and the changing nature of what they need from us are among the most fundamental. Why are we not hearing more about this coming tidal wave of students? Why, indeed! Partly because the American news media is slow to pick up on complicated trend stories – think about how long it took for them to get a handle on the crisis in health care – and partly because the stage has been taken over by the emotional and often misrepresented “college costs” debate.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s clear that the American public still realizes the value of public higher education, but it’s also clear that they’re frustrated about the cost. We are challenged to help them understand that they are paying more because the state is paying less.
Some will say that costs have gone up because university administrations are bloated.
Some will say that if faculty would just teach more, our problems would be solved.
Some will say that if we’d just be more efficient, we could manage our way past these hard times. To all of those suggestions and more, my response is simply this: Not one of those proposals – even if we thought they were sound, which I do not – not one of those proposals solves the fundamental problem: Demand has outstripped supply. If public higher education is a public good, it must be publicly supported, period.
In the past, higher education’s response to major societal concerns has been met with an outpouring of public funds to support those efforts. Think of the G.I. Bill, the space race, or the establishment of Pell Grants. Each evolutionary wave in public higher education has been aimed at educating a broader segment of society -- the establishment of the land-grants, the normal schools, community colleges, and even today’s online universities.
But where is today’s investment in higher education? The next surge of students is coming. In fact, it is upon us, and it is of tidal wave proportions as large as that of the baby boom generation. Where is the public investment in this public good?
I would submit to our elected officials and other leaders that the issues they face are more profound and fundamental than budget cuts, tuition caps and administrative spending. The issue they must wrestle with as guardians of the public trust is simply this: How will this state or any other state accommodate this burgeoning number of new students? It is our challenge this year – all of us – to carry that message and to change the context of the college cost debate.
I said at the outset that I believe NIU is well positioned in many ways to succeed in an era of fundamental change. This issue provides a critical example: I have come to understand, over the course of my three years here, that Northern Illinois University is deeply committed to providing opportunity for all students, from all backgrounds, who want to learn. That belief is woven into the fabric of the institution. As a result, we have programs and practices in place to support students from all educational backgrounds.
From the Deacon Davis CHANCE program and the Rhoten Smith endowment for minority graduate study to the NIU Honors program and special academic interest residence hall floors, NIU is well prepared, both programmatically and philosophically, for a changing student body.
Another special initiative that has anticipated this change is the Latino Educational Policy Summit created and led by our former board chair, Manny Sanchez. With the help of dedicated staff and interested lawmakers in Springfield, this initiative has galvanized educators and lawmakers around the state, and is fomenting real change in the way Latino students are recruited for and supported in college.
Last month we learned that NIU is ranked number one in the country in the number of education doctorates awarded to African-Americans. These and other minority graduate degree numbers are the source of great pride to me, and they underscore the commitment to opportunity that runs beneath everything we do here.
From that position of strength, I want to shift our thinking about access and opportunity to a greater emphasis on achieving educational goals – in a word, retention and graduation.
To that end, we’ve formed a campus-wide retention task force, co-chaired by Vice Provost Gip Seaver and Vice Provost for Student Affairs Gary Gresholdt. This group is focusing on all four years of the undergraduate academic experience, and they are undertaking this task with the belief that retention has as much to do with personal issues as it does with classroom performance.
I want to take this opportunity to recognize Gary Gresholdt for his many years of service to the university. Our students have had no stronger advocate than Gary, and we have all benefited from his sound advice and wise management of our very important Student Affairs program. Gary, good luck in your retirement and thank you for continuing to share your time and expertise with us as we look for new leaders to carry on your legacy. Gary, would you please stand and be recognized?
The coming tidal wave of new students has strong implications for all sectors of our society, but perhaps none so obvious as its implications for our economy.
Bear with me as I cite a few statistics: By the year 2008, new jobs are expected to increase by 20 million, or about 14 percent. Approximately half of those new jobs, which are new positions that don’t exist today, will require a college degree. That’s a 25 percent increase in the number of jobs that require a college credential. As little as 15 years ago, less than half – about 42 percent – of all American jobs required a college degree. Do you know what that number is today? Seventy-five percent. Three-quarters of all jobs in America now require a college degree.
And how are we keeping up? Well, about ten years from now, the need for new workers with college degrees, and this is based on job growth and retirements, the need for new college-educated workers will be about 18 million. At current graduation rates, our country will be short about 6 million workers. So, Baby Boomers, you may be able to retire, but unless we bridge this gap, you won’t be able to rest!
Here’s what the Congressional Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance has to say on this topic: “Failure to expand investments in higher education will rob the economy of the high-skilled workers needed to sustain economic growth.”
The National Governors’ Association put it this way: “The driving force behind the 21st Century economy is knowledge, and developing human capital is the best way to ensure prosperity.”
Former University of Michigan President James Duderstadt, in his very insightful speech on the future of public higher education, put it even more plainly when he said, “Advanced learning is the defining domestic policy issue for a knowledge-driven society.” Duderstadt went on to say that, just as the space race of the 1960’s galvanized our leaders to invest in research and education for the “best and brightest” American students, today we have a “skills race” in which the challenge isn’t creating an elite group of new rocket scientists, but rather educating the entire workforce. In other words, we must embrace the concept of “No ADULT left behind.”
In an information-driven economy, knowledge reigns supreme, and new knowledge is at a premium. Nowhere in our society are there greater resources for the creation of new knowledge than at our public universities.
NIU’s induction three years ago into the prestigious ranks of Carnegie Research I and the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, or NASULGC, signaled a new era in the manifestation of our research mission. That movement reached new heights this year when we managed to attract a well-known scientist and research administrator to take over our research and graduate studies program.
Dr. Rathindra Bose, would you please stand and be recognized? Already, Dr. Bose has helped us reorganize to look and function more like the NASULGC institution we are. He has been charged with encouraging and overseeing the development of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research programs, and with doubling external funding in five years to a total of at least $100 million. We’ve all heard recently about large federal grants going to universities engaged in homeland security research. Of more general interest, though, at least in the context of this analysis, is the growing trend toward interdisciplinary, inter-university and public/private research collaboration. This will be the future of major university research projects, and for several reasons:
First, the size and cost of many new experimental facilities is beyond the reach of most single universities. Think Fermilab and Argonne.
Second, the complexity of today’s most compelling research topics – biotechnology, nanotechnology, food sciences and child welfare, to name a few – span many different disciplines.
Finally, many experts are predicting a greater convergence of research interests between and among public universities and their private research sponsors in fields such as telecommunications and information technology.
The day of the solitary scholar has largely given way to research teams. NIU has and must continue to embrace that trend. Under the leadership of our Provost, Dr. Ivan Legg, our distinguished deans, and our vice president for research Dr. Bose, we are currently developing a competitive R&D stimulus program for this university.
The first phase of that program has begun. We are identifying areas of emerging strength in our research program, and are developing a pool of funds to encourage more grant-writing in areas with high potential for research funding. As Dr. Bose has pointed out, we have an impressive yield rate on those grant applications we do submit. Increasing the number of applications is key to enhancing that form of external support.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also take the opportunity here to mention the increasingly important role of our federal research agenda in Washington. With the assistance of our governmental relations chief, Kathy Buettner, we have been able to obtain nearly $15 million in the last three years in federal earmarks for key NIU research programs.
This week, Congress passed the final Department of Defense budget, and in that appropriations bill is another $4 million that will fund two programs in the College of Engineering -- one having to do with advanced vehicle manufacturing, and the other with what is known as micro fabrication. These grants are the first NIU has ever received from the Department of Defense, incidentally.
And another $5 million currently sits in the draft Congressional budget for FY04.
Among the projects for which we have received funding this year or will soon receive funding are:
As you’ve heard, the types of research programs we have been able to expand with federal earmarks range from physics and nanotechnology to the study of family violence and changing atmospheric conditions.
The list of Congressional sponsors for these projects likewise spans both sides of the aisle and every corner of the political spectrum. It includes Senators Dick Durbin and Peter Fitzgerald, and Representatives Judy Biggert, Phil Crane, Danny Davis, Denny Hastert, Mark Kirk, Ray LaHood, Bill Lipinski, and Don Manzullo. We all owe these individuals a debt of gratitude for their support of public investment in public higher education.
One of the themes I’ve woven through much of my analysis today is that of partnerships. I’ve talked about how we need to enhance partnerships with other educational institutions to accommodate the coming tidal wave of new students. I’ve talked about the growing imperative for us to partner with other universities, agencies and corporations to fulfill our research mission.
Inherent in all these partnerships is a guiding sense of public purpose, of committing our human and intellectual resources to the most pressing concerns of the day. What we used to call “public service” has evolved into a much more sophisticated and distinct part of public higher education. At NIU, our outreach and engagement activities cut across all colleges and departments, and have become an integral part of our teaching and research efforts as well. Perhaps no other aspect of our mission is more closely tied to an economic imperative than this one: In our outreach efforts, we are clearly playing an important role in regional development.
One of our newest leaders in this area is the recently appointed director of the Center for Governmental Studies, Bob Gleeson. The Center helped organize a recent conference on what are called “edge cities,” and in the description of that event he provided a definition that, for me, captured the uniqueness and vitality of this region. Here’s what Bob Gleeson had to say: “NIU finds itself in the fortunate position of being the premier public institution in one of the great American developing spaces.”
“Places like this are where 21st Century America is being defined.”
“It is one of just a few areas in the country, the world, actually, where there is a lot of population growth and a lot of new wealth being created.” And he goes on to talk about the tremendous opportunities for scholarly study and meaningful engagement in such an area.
In this tremendous, dynamic region, NIU finds itself a major and much-sought-after player. It gives me a sense of real pride to know that we are setting the standard and creating the model for a new social contract with public higher education.
One of the best examples I can think of is our very successful partnership with Rock Valley College. That program allows place-bound students in the Rockford area to complete a four-year degree with classes taught by NIU faculty at RVC. When we talk about the coming tidal wave of new students, and how the various parts of the American higher education system are going to have to work together to accommodate this new demand, the RVC partnership is exactly the model people ought to be looking at.
The deans, faculty and staff who made the RVC partnership happen deserve our recognition, especially the partnership coordination at NIU Outreach. I also want to single out our Admissions Director, Bob Burk, and our Financial Aid Director, Kathleen Brunson, for the extra effort, often on their own time, which made this partnership work. Bob and Kathleen, would you please stand?
Another area in which NIU leadership has not only emerged but blossomed is the very compelling need for greater coordination between all levels of the public education system. At NIU, we call it the “preschool through graduate school,” or “P-20” initiative.
Led by five of our deans, NIU’s P-20 effort is bringing together education leaders throughout the state in an effort to create a seamless web of services for learners of all ages.
I’d like to ask the members of the P-20 task force to stand and be recognized: Deans Chris Sorensen, Harold Kafer, Fred Kitterle, Shirley Richmond and Promod Vohra, Vice Provost Gip Seaver, and from NIU Outreach Vice President Anne Kaplan and Marilyn McConachie, thank you for putting NIU in the lead among Illinois public universities in addressing this critical educational issue.
Some of you know that I was recently involved in the DeKalb Growth Summit, working with local leaders on issues related to growth in the area surrounding NIU. The one message I tried to leave with all the summit participants, and I will repeat it here, is this: NIU cannot continue to thrive without high quality local schools. We have a vested interest, both philosophically and practically, in the success of the DeKalb schools.
Earlier this week, I attended a DeKalb school board meeting, along with Dean Sorensen, to discuss the potential establishment of a new “Partnership School” in the former Malta high school building. This initiative would allow us to expand our involvement with the local schools with more on-site services, enhanced staff and curriculum development, and expanded clinical placements.
The district hopes the NIU partnership will allow them to create a model that can be replicated elsewhere in the district. One of our partners in that venture is with us today. I’d like to acknowledge DeKalb school superintendent Brian Ali.
One of the things we talked about with the DeKalb school board was NIU’s success in obtaining grants to fund school partnerships. I don’t think even Dean Sorensen or Dean Kitterle can work this quickly, but between the time we met with the school board and today, we have managed to provide new evidence to support that claim. Chris and Fred, could I ask you both to stand?
Tuesday afternoon, Dean Sorensen received a call from the U.S. Department of Education informing her that they have awarded us not one but two grants to fund P-20 school partnerships. Together, they total nearly $6.5 million! Deans Sorensen and Kitterle, congratulations and thank you for a job well done!
The first grant is for $4.3 million and it is aimed at what DOE calls “teacher quality enhancement.” That grant is for a partnership between NIU, the Rockford Public Schools and our community college partner, Rock Valley College. I might add that it is one of just five such grants nationwide! Two of our partners in this groundbreaking initiative are here today: Ann Rundall, interim curriculum director for the Rockford Public Schools. Ann, would you please stand? And representing Rock Valley College, the assistant dean of liberal arts and sciences there, Diane Kuehl. Diane would you please stand?
The second grant is for $1.5 million, and it is also is conjunction with partnership schools. That grant aims to help teachers use technology, and it is a joint project with the Colleges of Education and Liberal Arts and Sciences. Deans Chris Sorensen and Fred Kitterle are co-directors on the project.
With our roots as a teachers’ college, and with education at all levels the most pressing concern for our region, how appropriate and satisfying for NIU to play this leadership role! Our engagement with the region that we serve helps us define our public purpose.
It has been, and will remain, key to our claim on public resources. In all that we do – in our teaching, our search for new knowledge and our sharing of expertise – in all these endeavors we must continue to be guided by the needs of our region. Our requests for greater public support must be supported by evidence of indispensable leadership in regional development, economic growth and improved quality of life.
I said at the outset of my remarks that we are experiencing fundamental change in American higher education. I’ve said that we must convince our leaders to recommit to the social contract under which public universities have operated for more than a century, that is, that public higher education is a public good, deserving of public support.
At the same time, we need to understand that some of what we face is beyond the control of elected officials, no matter how strong their support. At the heart of this fundamental change is the need for public universities to find additional and alternative sources of funding.
I’ve already mentioned our efforts to obtain more research dollars. That pursuit also includes a new emphasis on patents and licensing, both of which routinely funnel needed resources into university budgets.
Private fundraising also takes on greater significance in this new era, and we continue to make progress there as well. Despite declines nationally in giving to higher education and gifts from alumni, our fundraising team exceeded its goal by nearly $1 million this year, bringing in more than $10 million total.
Here are just a few examples of how that $10 million came in:
The stories go on and on, but I just wanted to give you a flavor of the kinds of gifts NIU is receiving, and the kinds of people who are moved to provide this very personal support. Many donors are members of the NIU campus community; many are grateful alumni; still others are longtime area residents who understand how profoundly this university has affected their quality of life and that of their neighbors.
I’d like to recognize the hard work of our development team, and particularly the leadership of Foundation President Mallory Simpson. Mallory, would you please stand? Whenever Mallory tells me about a new gift, she is always quick to credit the deans, faculty and staff who have made it possible. Mallory is helping all of us develop a fundraising culture at NIU, and that will be an invaluable asset in the years ahead.
One of the features of successful fundraising culture is the feeling that we are part of something important, and that our organization is “on the rise.” The excitement generated by national media coverage of NIU – whether it’s a research discovery, a multimillion dollar private gift or the success of a football team – does wonders in building alumni pride and encouraging them to reconnect with their alma mater. We have established many such relationships over the past year, and those successes bode well for major gift support this year and in years to come.
Beyond that, our Alumni Association volunteer leadership is setting new priorities for university involvement. This year they opened a Chicago office, where alumni can gather at special events with other NIU grads and access a variety of NIU services. In a little more than two weeks time, our Alumni Association will be making an exciting announcement about another new initiative, this time here on this campus. I’ll leave that announcement to Alumni Association President Bob Fioretti, but suffice it to say, it will be another major step forward in building and maintaining relationships with our graduates.
Of course, no relationship here is more important than the one between student and teacher, and I am firmly committed to doing what we can to nurture that relationship at NIU. One of the challenges we must meet in the next few years is replenishing the professoriate after several years with record numbers of retirements. Nearly half of all our current faculty members are eligible for retirement right now. And while the economy has slowed the brain drain a bit in the last couple of years, we are still seeing 30 – 40 faculty retire each year.
For NIU to continue its leadership role in the region, we must replace retiring tenure track faculty with new tenure track faculty, both to maintain our graduate and research programs, and for the overall intellectual health of the university. As we continue to discuss university priorities in this era of declining state support, please know that this issue, as well as our ongoing efforts to improve faculty salaries – are at the top of my list.
I said at the outset that I believe we are witnessing a fundamental change in the landscape of public higher education. I also said that our current state budget crisis is merely a symptom, albeit a very serious symptom, of a larger issue -- that is, the growing inability of many leaders to see higher education as a public good.
I’ve talked at length about the coming tidal wave of new students, and how that huge surge in demand should be framing the public debate on college costs.
I’ve also expressed my view that NIU’s forward-thinking alliances with community colleges and other educational partnerships will be the model for how public universities meet the needs of many of these new students.
I’ve discussed our need to clarify and differentiate our mission, to celebrate what we are and play to our strengths.
I’ve talked about our increasingly important role in regional development, and the extremely critical role we are playing in P-20, or preschool through graduate school, educational system improvement.
I talked at length about our need to diversify our funding strategies – through a stepped-up, competitive R & D program, private fundraising and corporate alliances.
And throughout my remarks, I have tried to emphasize the importance of partnerships. They not only allow us to do things we couldn’t do on our own, but they demonstrate to our critics that we are driven by public purpose.
It is a new world out there, and it’s important that we look past the temporary roadblocks to see the bigger picture, in all its wonderful, frightening, and promise-filled complexity.
Given the realities of what lies ahead, given the demands being laid at our feet and the new orders put on our heads, given all that, I consider it an honor to serve as president of Northern Illinois University.
Because when it comes right down to it, NIU is today what all universities must strive to become: a center of opportunity, founded on and driven by a very public purpose.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for making it so.