Fall is the perfect time to inaugurate this new SJR column, UIS Perspectives. The start of a new academic year, with students arriving and classes beginning, brings energy and anticipation that you can feel throughout the entire campus. When I became Chancellor of UIS last summer I said that I'd spend my first year listening and, in the spirit of enriching our town and gown relationship, I want to reveal some of the lessons I've learned.
UIS, known first as Sangamon State University, is deeply rooted here in central Illinois and we're proud to have provided opportunities for thousands of individuals to achieve their educational dreams. We are Springfield's public university - one of three campuses of the University of Illinois, a source of community pride and an asset that is vital to the economic and cultural advancement of the region.
Interest in UIS is growing, and more than 1,600 prospective students applied to join our freshmen class this year. Along with their parents and lots of student-volunteers, I helped several of those freshmen move into their residence halls a few days ago.
One thing I heard again and again from students and their parents was this: Students choose UIS because of the personalized, high-quality education they are confident they will experience, both in and outside of the classroom. Having been on campus for a year now; I've observed that supportive community every day and everywhere.
Something else I've heard and seen just as often is that the price of a college education has become a critical issue not just in Illinois, but across the U.S. For many Illinois residents, whether high school seniors or adults seeking long-delayed educational opportunities, higher education is about affordability. To put it bluntly, you're not going to college if you can't afford it and many families simply can't in the current economic environment.
Though UIS remains a bargain comparatively speaking, we've made several changes in our financial aid strategies that are making UIS even more affordable. And thanks to the generosity of SSU/UIS alums and many other strong supporters in this community, we are also increasing scholarship support for many deserving students. We're doing all we can to address the college affordability challenge because we know there is no better investment in the future of our state and our nation.
One other thing I've heard a lot in the past year is that UIS is a wonderful institution, but that it should be more visible in the community and across the state. Well, in the coming weeks you're going to see more of UIS. You'll see images of our students on billboards and in social media with the tagline – "Leadership lived." We're using those words to describe the UIS experience because that's what happens on our campus – leadership is lived. Those of you who are alumni are living this message too and we are proud of that.
You'll also see UIS students volunteering, interning and working throughout all sectors of state government and the Springfield community; contributing their time and talent at the same time they are gaining valuable experience. You'll see them in local restaurants, shops, gas stations and stores; because whether they are among the 1,100 students living on campus or commuting, UIS students enjoy our community and are contributing to its economy. You'll also see our faculty and staff, as I have this past year, involved in local organizations and engaged in the community – leadership lived again.
What Athletic Director Kim Pate says about our rising Division II sports program, – "Our Town, Your Team" – actually applies to the whole university. So we'll come to you and I invite you to join us this fall for some of the many events that help make UIS Springfield's hometown university. I'll see you on campus.