Environmental Assessment

Environmental forces impacting the University of Illinois overall include demographic, educational, economic/fiscal, economic development and research, and political factors and trends. Key findings can be summarized as follows:

  • The growing demands for education, creation of new knowledge leading to technological innovation, and economic development through technological commercialization create high levels of opportunity for the university.
  • The higher education marketplace is seeing abundant and aggressive competition (both nationally and internationally) for students, faculty, resources, and reputation from both traditional and non-traditional providers.
  • There has been a sea change in the traditional model for financing public higher education in Illinois and across the nation that is unlikely to reverse itself anytime soon. The State of Illinois has held steady or cut funding to public higher education in the past four years, since FY02. The university must respond as if state support for higher education will not grow in the near future.

Specifically for UIS, the following environmental factors present both challenges and opportunities in the following categories:

 

Demographic factors and trends

Baby boomlet: While Illinois will experience only slight population growth in coming years, a “baby boomlet” of high school graduates is now under way and will persist for the next few years. UIS – with relatively new facilities and room to expand, a new general education curriculum, and a young but highly credentialed faculty – is prepared to compete successfully for superior students who are looking for the environment provided by a small public liberal arts institution.

Retirees: As baby boomers reach retirement age and as people in general are living longer, the number of retirees is increasing. This national trend matches an interesting aspect of UIS history. Now 35 years old, UIS has more alumni, faculty, staff, and students who have reached retirement age and still have many years of vibrant productivity ahead of them. This offers many opportunities in the areas of alumni relations, development, mentoring, and building a community that recognizes the wisdom and experience that retirees have to offer.

Ethnic diversity: Historically, UIS has had relatively low percentages of minority students, staff, and faculty. The changing Illinois population and opportunities for partnerships in central Illinois, especially Springfield but also the Metro East and Chicago areas, provide UIS with opportunities to diversify its community in every area.

Latinos: Illinois’ population is becoming more diverse, and the Latino population will grow faster than any other segment in Illinois. While central Illinois historically has had a low percentage of Latinos, that trend has been changing in recent years. The new UIS general education curriculum emphasizes issues of diversity and globalization, which positions UIS to recruit, attract, and retain a growing number of Latino students, staff, and faculty.

African Americans: Even with the growing Latino population, African Americans are still the largest minority group in Illinois, especially in central Illinois, and that will continue to be the case. Nonetheless, the percentage of African American students, faculty, and staff at UIS remains well below Illinois and Springfield percentages. This presents a major challenge for UIS to recruit and retain more African American students, staff, and faculty.

Faculty: Although a significant proportion of University of Illinois tenured/tenure-track faculty is age 55 or over, that is not the case at UIS. By a coincidence of timing, the retirement of the first generation of Sangamon State University faculty is almost complete, and more than 20 percent of the faculty were in their first year at UIS in the fall of 2005. That is an astounding percentage that affords many opportunities for UIS. With new faculty also recently hired for the initiation of Capital Scholars and online programs, UIS actually has a majority of junior faculty. Retention, not retirement, is a concern for the UIS faculty base. It will become an increasing concern as the quality of instruction and scholarship grows at UIS and faculty will have the choice either to remain or seek opportunities elsewhere. It will be imperative for UIS to retain its new base of highly credentialed faculty.

Rural counties: UIS is located in Sangamon County, which is surrounded by rural counties that are declining in population. This provides opportunities for UIS to seek grant funding to increase opportunities for higher education for rural students, especially those living near the poverty line. It also provides opportunities to the aging population in rural Illinois for those who seek lifelong learning opportunities, cultural and intellectual stimulation, certificate programs, or continuing education programs.

Alumni: The University of Illinois has more than 500,000 living alumni – about 22,000 of whom are UIS alumni. Most people would agree that UIS has a long way to go to connect a significant percentage of those alumni to UIS in heartfelt ways. There is great potential for UIS if it can harness and direct that energy.

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Higher education

College-age population: The college-age population nationwide is growing. The Sloan I online baccalaureate programs at UIS (Liberal Studies, English, History, Math, Philosophy, Computer Science) draw 62% of their fall enrollment from outside Illinois. California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida account for a combined 24% of enrollments. The growth of the college-age population makes it likely that UIS will continue to be a leader in providing online education.

Women: A larger percentage of women are attending higher education institutions, and the gap between men and women is increasing. This fall, 59% of UIS students are women; UIS is in a good position to continue to capture its fair share of this important market.

Proprietary institutions: Competition from proprietary institutions and other non-traditional educational providers in the marketplace for students (both nationally and internationally) has greatly increased in recent years. Illinois community colleges have articulated with online programs from proprietary institutions, but have also been happy to promote UIS as an alternative. Competition will increase for UIS as we offer more professional programs online while the proprietary institutions expand their offerings in the liberal arts.

Competition for faculty: Growth in faculty compensation at private institutions has surpassed public universities, and the intense competition for faculty will continue. UIS will become more and more a part of this competition as it pursues its top-tier status. Among the benefits offered to UIS faculty are opportunities to build and improve many programs, to pursue their scholarship and service interests in a historically rich environment, and to teach in a small institution with a long history of public affairs, teaching, scholarship, and service.

Service learning and civic engagement: Nationally, the growth of programs such as Campus Compact and the American Democracy Project are signs that civic engagement, citizenship, and community service – sometimes wrapped up in various types of “service learning” packages – are re-emerging as critically important at colleges and universities. With its history of service to non-traditional students and its strong focus on public affairs, UIS is poised to build on its foundation and traditions of blending real-world opportunities for students with academic offerings.

Lifelong learning: Rapid technological innovation has led to a need for lifelong learning that will allow individuals to continuously adapt and update skills. Lifelong learning is one of UIS’ strengths and is one of the central themes of the new general education curriculum. The average age of a UIS student remains over 30 this fall. The average age of our online students is 35 this year at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. We are well positioned to meet the lifelong learning needs of the non-traditional student nationally with our online presence and with our considerable experience on campus in working with non-traditional students.

Illinois exports college students: Illinois is the second largest exporter of college students (New Jersey is first). Offering a high-quality small public alternative experience should keep more students in Illinois even as a neighboring school (ISU) had to put a cap on admissions due to the high number of applications.

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Economic, budgetary, fiscal, and political issues

State of Illinois as the major funding source: UIS at one time received almost 90% of its operating revenue from the state. That figure has dropped to about 40% and continues to decline. The state’s fiscal difficulties are expected to continue, and the current state administration does not seem inclined to support higher education at increasing levels. UIS will have to look to other sources of revenue as it strives to become a premier university. The same state funding problems also make it unlikely that UIS will derive any major capital funding from the state – making it necessary to raise money from other sources for renovation, new buildings, and other needed projects. The University of Illinois overall has become more reliant on multiple revenue streams, and state policymakers interpret this characteristic as meaning the university can more easily absorb reductions or at least flat funding in the general appropriation. In spite of significant administrative cuts over the past four years (including a $1.057 million midyear recision in FY02), there is still strong political and editorial opinion that the University of Illinois has administrative bloat and can keep cutting administrative costs.

Tuition: While tuition seems to be the most likely place to generate additional revenue at UIS, there is growing public concern over affordability. Moreover, recent legislation (e.g., the four-year guaranteed tuition program that is referred to as “truth in tuition”) will challenge attempts by the public universities to raise tuition by percentages deemed politically unacceptable. UIS historically has been one of the most affordable public universities in Illinois.

Lack of operating reserves: Because of historically low tuition, accompanied by funding cuts in the past three years, UIS has not been able to develop operating reserves. The absence of reserves means that UIS has little budgetary flexibility and limited capacity to undertake new initiatives within our current limitation on resources. UIS has trimmed its administrative budget by 25% in recent years, and there is very little else to trim without a serious negative impact on services to students or the academic enterprise.

Emergency preparedness and homeland security: The new millennium sees a renewed federal, state, and local focus on building capacity to anticipate, prepare, and respond to emergencies of all types, including those related to natural disasters and homeland security. With a heritage of public affairs activities and strong graduate programs addressing the principles of preparedness and security, UIS is uniquely positioned to help train local and first responders and administrators to build solid programs in emergency preparedness and homeland security.

P-16: The “P-16” education continuum, which is important to the Illinois Board of Higher Education, has been truncated in the minds of many state policymakers and no longer includes higher education. There is, however, a significant focus on issues related to K-12 education and its financing. It appears that Illinois public higher education institutions have not sold their story as well as the K-12 community. Meanwhile, UIS strives to be a community leader in the region by working with Lincoln Land Community College and many public school districts on various initiatives.

Illinois General Assembly: The interests of UIS are effectively represented in the legislature by our current local legislators – Senator Larry Bomke and Representatives Raymond Poe and Rich Brauer. We appreciate the advocacy of Senator Deanna Demuzio and Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin as well. While the University of Illinois overall enjoys a broad base of support within the General Assembly, political support for higher education tends to be fragmented and regional.

State capital location and Lincoln’s hometown: Location is a major plus for UIS. Its presence in the state capital means strong networks of alumni in state government. Each year the many graduates of UIS degree programs throughout state agencies, the legislature, and the statehouse press corps are joined by nearly 150 interns from three major graduate internship programs: the Graduate Public Service Internships, the Illinois Legislative Staff Internship Program, and the Public Affairs Reporting Program. Additionally, many undergraduate students gain practical experience through their Applied Study Term. The UIS curriculum will continue to emphasize public affairs and civic engagement opportunities. Our location in the capital has afforded our faculty and students research and educational opportunities in the area of public policy. Leaders in state government and policy both teach and serve as resources for classes at UIS. The Center for State Policy and Leadership symbolizes UIS’ longstanding commitment to public affairs. Springfield is also the headquarters for many nonprofit organizations and trade associations, which provide numerous opportunities for internships, student engagement, and research. Finally, the proximity of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and the many historical sites provides significant opportunities for scholarship, educational programs, and student engagement.

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Economic development and research

Science: The United States is in danger of losing its edge in science and engineering to other countries as fewer American students are training to become scientists and engineers and more international students are staying in their home countries for such education. Quietly, the number of majors in the natural and quantitative sciences at UIS has grown to 727 students this fall – 16% of the total head count. Our imminent expansion in the lower division will provide a larger faculty base in the sciences and greater opportunity for growth. These faculty have been successful in attracting external funding.

Business: There is a growing need in the marketplace for workforce training and assistance to small businesses. The College of Business and Management, with the support of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, launched the Center for Entrepreneurship and recently has forged a strong alliance with Mayor Davlin, Senator Demuzio, and the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce. UIS and its College of Business and Management are now positioned to be growing forces in local economic development efforts.

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Competitive/Benchmark analysis

Two key components of UIS’ strategy for achieving its vision are developing a clearer understanding of its position in comparison to its regional competitors and its national aspirational peers and then, based on that understanding, making strategic decisions (e.g., investment of resources, admissions criteria, hiring choices) to improve its position.

Competitive analysis is useful for highlighting market advantages that can be used to strengthen both student recruitment and fundraising.

Currently, UIS is in the beginning stages of the use of competitive positioning analyses for these purposes. However, even the initial effort at this type of analysis has proven to be most helpful.

This strategic plan highlights UIS’ aspiration to be a leading small public liberal arts university, an institution with many of the strengths of small private liberal arts colleges, while resembling public universities in other ways.

Figures 1 through 6 in Appendix B illustrate these variables, which
were selected from those used in the U.S. News
rankings of colleges and universities. See
a description of the U.S. News methodology
.

These charts compare data for UIC, UIUC, and regional public and private
competitors of UIS:

  • The six regional public universities are Eastern Illinois University (EIU), Illinois State University (ISU), Northern Illinois University (NIU), Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville (SIUE), Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIUC), and Western Illinois University (WIU).
  • The six regional private institutions are Bradley, Illinois College, Illinois Wesleyan, Knox, McKendree, and Millikin.

Figures 1 and 2 show the comparative position of UIS on two factors associated with learning environments: student-faculty ratio and proportion of large classes (classes with more than 50 students). Those variables are plotted against first-year retention rates. It is reasonable to assume that lower student-faculty ratios would be associated with higher first-year retention rates and that a lower proportion of large classes would be associated with higher first-year retention rates. The data bear out these hypotheses.

Moreover, private colleges promote themselves as having low student-faculty ratios and small class sizes, factors that, as noted above, tend to increase retention. The clustering of points on the scatterplots show that the private colleges do, indeed, have lower faculty-student ratios and fewer large classes, while at the same time have higher first-year retention rates.

What is particularly notable about these charts, however, is the way that UIS clusters with the private institutions. At UIS, the relationship between student-faculty ratio and first-year retention and between proportion of large classes and retention is much more similar to the regional private colleges than it is to the regional public universities.

Complementary analyses are shown in Figures 3 through 6. These charts show the relationship between tuition and four variables used in the U.S. News rankings: student-faculty ratio, first-year retention, proportion of large classes, and entering SAT/ACT scores. The charts show that UIS tends to “look like” the private universities in terms of the U.S. News variables, but clusters with the regional public universities in terms of tuition. These data clearly have marketing implications (e.g., “value for the dollar”), but also prompt consideration of how much could be achieved toward the goals of the strategic plan by a tuition strategy that moved UIS up in comparison to the other publics.

Implementing the strategic plan over the next several years will, in part, consist of continuing such analyses and using them to shape strategy and inform decision-making.

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