Good morning, and thank you, Mayor Smith. It’s always uplifting to hear positive news about DeKalb.
I want to start out by sharing positive comments about our communiversity that I heard last week from another highly respected leader – Dr. John Dunn, who retired in 2017 after serving for 10 years as the president of Western Michigan University, and then agreed last year to serve the interim chancellor of SIU Carbondale. John received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from NIU in the late ’60’, and he’s returned to DeKalb many times since then – to attend MAC athletic competitions and higher-ed meetings. and to visit his uncle, NIU Hall of Fame Gymnastics Coach Hubie Dunn.
Last week, John was at NIU being honored by the College of Education, and I got to spend some time with him. Over dinner at Tapa La Luna, John shared how impressed he is by the positive changes in DeKalb and at NIU, and how happy it makes him to see good things happening in these places that mean so much to him.
I feel that way too. Good things are happening. DeKalb and NIU are moving forward into a bright future.
The city is being transformed because our city leaders and members of our local business community are working together to implement a bold, shared vision for DeKalb.
NIU is also benefitting from collaborative leadership, as well as the development of long-term plans and implementation strategies.
I appreciate the General Assembly’s bipartisan efforts to help Illinois higher education thrive again – an FY20 state appropriation that represents a 5% increase over FY19, and a commitment to provide capital funding for reinvestment and new construction over the next several years. I want to thank Representative Jeff Keicher for his efforts on behalf of the university, and his recognition that funding public higher education is in investment our future.
I also want to recognize the faculty, staff and students at NIU who worked together this past year to make our university stronger. We accomplished a lot. We crafted and adopted vision, mission and values statements that speak to who we are and who we aspire to be as an institution and as proud Huskies.
We introduced a strategic enrollment management plan that maps out a multiyear approach for achieving a sustainable enrollment of 17,000 to 18,000. It’s our playbook, complete with specific assignments and investments at every position, and I’m happy to say that it’s working.
Thanks to a university-wide effort – new strategic partnerships and innovative marketing efforts – we’re seeing notable progress this year:
- The number of applications we received for Fall 2019 admission was up over the previous year by 10%. That’s 1,675 additional applications.
- For admitted students who enrolled, we’re up 2% in new freshmen … and this is the third year in a row that we’ve seen an increase in new freshmen
We were also:
- Up 2% in new transfer students;
- Up 9% in new graduate and law students;
- Up 25% in new out-of-state students; and
- Up 37% in online students.
The fact that we’ve seen significantly increased attendance at our summer and fall open houses strongly suggests we’re off to a good start recruiting next year’s incoming class.
With these achievements, we met or exceeded our Strategic Enrollment Management plan’s goals related to new student recruitment, and we’re on the right track to meet our overarching objective of achieving and maintaining an enrollment of 17,000 to 18,000.
I acknowledge that we have more work to do – and I anticipate more success ahead.
NIU’s strategic enrollment plan emphasizes not just increasing the recruitment of new students but also increasing degree completion by our admitted students. Accordingly, we are looking at different ways to support students – more innovative ways to decrease their debt and their time to degree; more effective ways to keep talented students from our local community here for their undergraduate education – and beyond.
One key way we’re doing this is recalibrating our scholarships and financial aid packages. Beginning next fall, any newly admitted freshman with a 3.5 GPA will automatically receive $3,000 a year – that’s $12,000 over the course of four years. Based on our data analysis, this means several hundred students on average who were not previously eligible will now have access to a scholarship!
We’ve also stepped up our outreach to local students. You might recall that we created scholarships last year specifically for DeKalb County high school graduates and Kish College transfers. Those will also continue this year. And, to make sure our local students are aware of those programs, we’re broadening our one-on-one outreach to local schools, expanding beyond the field trips that we do annually with DeKalb and Sycamore by adding more visits from Hiawatha, Rochelle, Kaneland and Rockford high schools.
Some of you may have seen the publicity recently on the new “2 degrees in 3 years” partnership that includes NIU, Kishwaukee College and six area high schools. We have defined seamless pathways that flow through high school and Kish to lead to bachelor’s degrees from NIU in one of five of our high-demand program areas:
- business administration;
- computer science;
- elementary education;
- psychology; and
- mechanical engineering.
The program allows students to earn both a Kish associate degree and a NIU bachelor’s degree within three years of high school completion, saving students and families both time and money.
We value the close relationships with our local institutions – these are key resources that help students earn their bachelor’s degrees and help retain local talent. I want to recognize the leadership of our partners, particularly Laurie Borowicz, president of Kishwaukee College, and Jamie Craven, superintendent of DeKalb D428. We will be speaking about our “2 degrees in 3 years” collaboration to a national conference of community college trustees later this week.
A vibrant future for DeKalb County depends on our ability to attract and retain educated young adults who build their lives here. And, there’s another piece of this puzzle that we have to address together – we have to make DeKalb more appealing not only to prospective students, but also to large- and medium-sized employers, and to educated young adults seeking a place to live, raise their families and start new businesses.
Research tells us that today’s students, faculty members and working adults want communities that are pedestrian-friendly with walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods that have stores, services, parks, convenient public transportation and other amenities. They want multiple residential options – home ownership, as well as rental properties that are safe and affordable with accessible and responsive local management. We see downtown DeKalb moving this way. We should be able to offer similar experiences to residents and prospective residents across our city and we need to work together to this end.
And, it’s not just about attracting more students to NIU – we need to find new ways to keep more NIU alumni here in DeKalb after graduation. Vibrant, economically sustainable college towns consistently reinvent themselves with infusions of new talent and energy from young professionals who choose to stay in their alma mater’s host community. This is a part of our shared history that needs to be celebrated and strengthened.
Look around you and see all of the successful community leaders here who came to this town via NIU and stayed to over the years.
- This very place where we’re gathered this morning – Faranda’s – created by NIU alumni Bill and Joy McMahon, who also own the Lincoln Inn.
- Fargo Skatepark – one of only two public indoor skate parks in Illinois, attracting thousands of people from throughout the region – founded by Ariel Ries, a graduate of Kishwaukee College and NIU.
- Byers Brewing Company, recently opened in downtown DeKalb – this business is owned by NIU graduates Megan and Steve Byers, and is located in a building owned by another NIU alumnus, Cohen Barnes, CEO of Sundog IT.
What prompted the people I just mentioned to invest their lives into this community? And more importantly, how can we work together to help more young graduates see DeKalb County as a great place to establish themselves, personally and professionally?
NIU is continually working with our community to improve the student experience and make DeKalb a more attractive place to learn, live and work. Together, we are growing effective initiatives, and testing new approaches.
For example, we have expanded on our successes:
- Campus Meets Community just had a very successful second year. This is the outdoor fair held on NIU’s MLK Commons, where local businesses introduce themselves to NIU students, faculty and staff. The number of exhibitors was up to 70 this year, compared to 43 last year. The energy was incredible, and the sense of community was strong.
- The latest Corn Classic Run attracted record numbers in September and included hundreds of NIU students and volunteers. Post-race surveys showed runners were particularly pleased with the route through campus, the enthusiasm of the crowd and the NIU Marching Band – all told, a race that used to attract a couple hundred participants this year hosted more than 625 runners.
- The good news keeps on coming from the merger of our two bus systems. Last month, we learned that the HuskieLine is now making daily trips to and from the Elburn train station – including from Cortland – and that it has added a route that goes to the large employment centers on the south end of town, timed to coincide with all three work shifts.
We are also working on new initiatives that we hope will produce successful outcomes and lasting positive impact.
- Tomorrow, NIU is hosting our most ambitious ever Diverse Supplier Networking Fair. This event is free and open to the public. Small businesses, especially those owned and operated by minorities, women, veterans and persons with disabilities are highly encouraged to register and attend. The fair offers networking opportunities with NIU departments and divisions, and other Illinois public universities, as well as informational sessions about how to do business with us.
- Before it’s even built, we’re working on ways to integrate our new Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability into the life of this community. In preparation for more formal partnerships, we’ve invited the DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association – or DAAHA – to move into NIU space, and we’ve made provisions for DeKalb County Community Gardens to use campus storage space for its growing operation. In addition, as I mentioned previously, we are working with the DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation (DCEDC) to develop a coherent narrative about DeKalb’s agricultural heritage and NIU’s potential to drive innovation at the food-water-energy nexus.
NIU is also collaborating with DCEDC to share data from branding studies. DCEDC is studying perceptions of our region, while NIU is focused on how the university and our proposed Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability are perceived by a wide range of audiences. When we look at our strengths, weaknesses and opportunities, it only makes sense to look at them together, and to seek opportunities to coordinate and collaborate.
- We’re talking to our student government and local businesses about a new initiative we’re calling the Communiversity Start-Up Challenge. The concept is that students explore local problems and work with area businesses and community leaders to come up with solutions, including new business start-ups. They’ll pitch their ideas to teams of experts, and winning teams will get start-up funding and guidance from mentors. I want to note that our students are particularly interested in working on initiatives that will advance the AGN revitalization plan.
- Another very important initiative we’re working on with the City of DeKalb involves the upcoming census. I don’t need to tell you how important it is for us to get an accurate count – it means real dollars and real congressional representation for all of us. College communities are notoriously difficult to count accurately, with large numbers of students and other “hard-to-count” groups of people. Everyone here can help by telling the people you interact with to make sure they get counted.
Finally, I want to invite all of you to participate next year in some of the many activities we are planning to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the founding of NIU. There are events being scheduled throughout the year, and we will release, on a monthly basis, summaries of the 125 Key Moments in NIU History.
You’ll be reading more about the anniversary celebrations soon. To close, I want to focus on one important aspect of our shared history.
NIU is here in DeKalb because DeKalb citizens, 125 years ago, fought to get it located here – and I do mean they fought. They invested their own time … money … land … and personal influence to bring the new “teachers college” here and thereby ensure the future growth and prosperity of their small but ambitious town.
One hundred and twenty-five years later, times have changed. DeKalb and the university have both changed. And, we’ll evolve even more as time goes on.
To thrive, we must continue to move forward together, to understand and capitalize on the opportunities that will define our shared future and ensure our continued prosperity.
Thank you for your time and attention, and for your commitment to our unending, lifelong partnership.