Jim Nowlan, Guest Columnist: Liberal arts colleges in peril; can they be saved?

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There are 4,000 degree-granting colleges and universities in our nation: community colleges, private liberal arts colleges, regional and urban public universities, and graduate research centers. I have taught within each type; each has its strengths and makes distinctive contributions to society.

Yet I have a soft spot in my heart for the liberal arts college, of which there are 700-800 in the U.S. With 500-2,000 students each, the schools offer a personal approach rarely found elsewhere. Rather than specialize the mind, these schools broaden and enlarge the mind.

Illinois has more than its share of these colleges, from Rockford down to McKendree in Lebanon. They were often started in the 19th century by Yankee ministers who believed in the civilizing influence of higher education, and before the development of public colleges.

Faculty often invite students into their homes for supper and talk during a term. Ditto for informal chats among faculty, staff and students over coffee between classes in the student center. Athletes who are not big or fast enough to play in the Big Ten can pursue their love of the game at these schools. And fellow students cheer on these true student athletes, whom they actually know.

Professors are there to teach and mentor. Most are devoted to their students, even though the pay is often less than many high school teachers pull down. Many such schools are like a big family, and the hot-house environments often lift graduates into top-flight graduate, medical, law and professional schools.

Yet I fear many liberal arts colleges are in peril, the drip-drip of closures over recent decades turned into a steady stream, exacerbated by the coronavirus. The 30 or so top-ranked such schools and the few others with big endowments will be fine, yet most liberal arts colleges have measly treasuries.

Many, maybe most liberal arts colleges have been struggling for decades. Many reasons:

· relatively high cost, and parental skittishness over taking on heavy debt, which has helped keep many liberal arts colleges afloat in recent decades;

· declining numbers of high school graduates;

· location often in small, out-of-the-way cities and hamlets, which never grew;

· dramatic expansion of lower-cost public universities and community colleges, the latter supported by both state appropriations as well as property tax dollars, and located close to their student markets;

· elimination long ago of direct Illinois state aid for private colleges, as well as sharp reductions in the past decade in the state’s need-based scholarship programs, and

· online education, which doesn’t require “the college experience.”

The coronavirus may now push many liberal arts institutions over the edge. One in Illinois, MacMurray College in Jacksonville, announced last month it is closing after 174 years at the end of the semester. Predictions are that uncertainties about how college will be conducted this fall might drive higher education enrollments down by 20 percent. Whatever the decline, it may be worse at ol’ Siwash (a fond to me, out-of-date term for the typical liberal arts college).

After all, say parents and students, why should we pay relatively big bucks for the personalized college experience, if there may not be so much of an on-campus experience this coming fall, or even into the future?

Of course, every private college alum and trustee believes, though with knitted brow, that his ol’ Siwash will survive, as others succumb. And planning for alternative futures, the trustees fret, would send the worst of signals to the larger world.

What to do? Possible options, among others, I’m sure:

· Cooperative colleges. Share foreign language, geology, classics, environmental science and other small department faculty.

· On-campus “Academies of Advanced Excellence” — for talented high school students in the college’s region, who can’t get enough physics, computer science, foreign language, advanced music or whatever from their limited high school programs.

Similar to the “dual credit” courses offered to high schoolers by community colleges, “advanced excellence” could be, like AP courses, more rigorous than dual credit, and possibly accepted by top private colleges and universities.

These academies would augment the continuing, traditional liberal arts college program.

· If staying open is not an option, maybe transform a campus into a Hope Meadows. Former University of Illinois professor Brenda Eheart converted a closed military base near her university into a community that brings oldsters together with foster care families in a mutually supportive living environment. Hope Meadows has been replicated in nine places across America, or similarly,

· Reconfigure a campus into a senior living complex with rich social, educational and performance opportunities.

I would hate to lose a single ol’ Siwash. We would be the poorer for it. Creativity is obviously required to sustain and strengthen the viable liberal arts colleges, and transform those that aren’t.

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May 29, 2020 at 09:19PM

Jim Nowlan, Guest Columnist: Liberal arts colleges in peril; can they be saved?

Jim Nowlan, Guest Columnist: Liberal arts colleges in peril; can they be saved?

https://ift.tt/3dhxx35

There are 4,000 degree-granting colleges and universities in our nation: community colleges, private liberal arts colleges, regional and urban public universities, and graduate research centers. I have taught within each type; each has its strengths and makes distinctive contributions to society.

Yet I have a soft spot in my heart for the liberal arts college, of which there are 700-800 in the U.S. With 500-2,000 students each, the schools offer a personal approach rarely found elsewhere. Rather than specialize the mind, these schools broaden and enlarge the mind.

Illinois has more than its share of these colleges, from Rockford down to McKendree in Lebanon. They were often started in the 19th century by Yankee ministers who believed in the civilizing influence of higher education, and before the development of public colleges.

Faculty often invite students into their homes for supper and talk during a term. Ditto for informal chats among faculty, staff and students over coffee between classes in the student center. Athletes who are not big or fast enough to play in the Big Ten can pursue their love of the game at these schools. And fellow students cheer on these true student athletes, whom they actually know.

Professors are there to teach and mentor. Most are devoted to their students, even though the pay is often less than many high school teachers pull down. Many such schools are like a big family, and the hot-house environments often lift graduates into top-flight graduate, medical, law and professional schools.

Yet I fear many liberal arts colleges are in peril, the drip-drip of closures over recent decades turned into a steady stream, exacerbated by the coronavirus. The 30 or so top-ranked such schools and the few others with big endowments will be fine, yet most liberal arts colleges have measly treasuries.

Many, maybe most liberal arts colleges have been struggling for decades. Many reasons:

· relatively high cost, and parental skittishness over taking on heavy debt, which has helped keep many liberal arts colleges afloat in recent decades;

· declining numbers of high school graduates;

· location often in small, out-of-the-way cities and hamlets, which never grew;

· dramatic expansion of lower-cost public universities and community colleges, the latter supported by both state appropriations as well as property tax dollars, and located close to their student markets;

· elimination long ago of direct Illinois state aid for private colleges, as well as sharp reductions in the past decade in the state’s need-based scholarship programs, and

· online education, which doesn’t require “the college experience.”

The coronavirus may now push many liberal arts institutions over the edge. One in Illinois, MacMurray College in Jacksonville, announced last month it is closing after 174 years at the end of the semester. Predictions are that uncertainties about how college will be conducted this fall might drive higher education enrollments down by 20 percent. Whatever the decline, it may be worse at ol’ Siwash (a fond to me, out-of-date term for the typical liberal arts college).

After all, say parents and students, why should we pay relatively big bucks for the personalized college experience, if there may not be so much of an on-campus experience this coming fall, or even into the future?

Of course, every private college alum and trustee believes, though with knitted brow, that his ol’ Siwash will survive, as others succumb. And planning for alternative futures, the trustees fret, would send the worst of signals to the larger world.

What to do? Possible options, among others, I’m sure:

· Cooperative colleges. Share foreign language, geology, classics, environmental science and other small department faculty.

· On-campus “Academies of Advanced Excellence” — for talented high school students in the college’s region, who can’t get enough physics, computer science, foreign language, advanced music or whatever from their limited high school programs.

Similar to the “dual credit” courses offered to high schoolers by community colleges, “advanced excellence” could be, like AP courses, more rigorous than dual credit, and possibly accepted by top private colleges and universities.

These academies would augment the continuing, traditional liberal arts college program.

· If staying open is not an option, maybe transform a campus into a Hope Meadows. Former University of Illinois professor Brenda Eheart converted a closed military base near her university into a community that brings oldsters together with foster care families in a mutually supportive living environment. Hope Meadows has been replicated in nine places across America, or similarly,

· Reconfigure a campus into a senior living complex with rich social, educational and performance opportunities.

I would hate to lose a single ol’ Siwash. We would be the poorer for it. Creativity is obviously required to sustain and strengthen the viable liberal arts colleges, and transform those that aren’t.

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via Effingham Daily News

May 29, 2020 at 09:19PM

Jim Nowlan, Guest Columnist: Liberal arts colleges in peril; can they be saved?

Commentary: The pandemic has new, current college students rethinking their plans. But beware of the gap year trap.

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The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus on Jan. 31, 2020.

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus on Jan. 31, 2020.(E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune)

With the COVID-19 pandemic raising questions about whether it is safe for colleges and universities to open in the fall, many young people are considering a gap year. I have four kids of my own in one stage or another of postsecondary education, and I have to admit that the thought crossed our minds.

Under normal circumstances, a gap year, whether right after high school or sometime during college, can be an intentional way for students to broaden their experience, see the world, make a little money and rethink their goals. But alluring as it sounds, we have rejected the idea of falling into the gap year trap — and here’s why.

First of all, foreign travel is all but prohibited at the moment except out of “absolute necessity,” and domestic travel is equally discouraged. With more than 40 million people filing for unemployment since mid-March, there are few if any jobs available, and the hardest-hit sectors are those for people without college degrees.

To be honest, in the pre-COVID world, a “gap year” was often the license of more affluent kids, but for kids from low-income households, who are less likely to finish college under any circumstances, a gap year could be a fatal blow to their academic goals. In fact, about 10% of students who take a gap year never enroll in college. And, students who take a gap year are about half as likely to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, according to the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study.

NPSAS found that just 21% of gap year students graduate within four years of enrollment versus 44% who didn’t take a gap year. Within five years, the graduation rate is 34% for gap year students versus 64% for non-gap year students.

There are other risks as well. Gap year students have to reapply for financial aid the following year and typically receive, on average, $2,500 less. A student who is taking time off to make money to help pay for college needs to factor in the loss of some financial aid — over and above the challenge of finding a job in this economy. Academic performance can also suffer as students can get a little rusty while finding themselves.

Nevertheless, parents and students are rightfully asking if college as we know it will be taking place this fall and the honest answer is nobody knows just yet. Plan A for many schools is to be fully open if the virus is contained. Plan B is some kind of hybrid between in-person classes with social distancing and online classes where necessary. Plan C is fully online.

While a few higher education institutions have signaled plans to be mostly online this fall, the vast majority of public and private universities as well as community colleges are still planning for some in-person classes, as well as other activities that fill out the college experience. Either way, young people should stay enrolled.

At the Illinois Board of Higher Education, our mission is to get as many students over the finish line as possible and prepare them for success in today’s competitive economy. The data is very clear that people with postsecondary degrees earn more than high school graduates earn. We are particularly focused on low-income students, students of color and rural students. All three populations are especially vulnerable.

We recently formed a committee of higher education leaders in Illinois to develop plans for safe and responsible reopening in the fall, whether in person, online or, more likely, something in between. So far, every college in Illinois is expecting to be open. In making our decisions, we are guided above all by the safety of students and employees, and we are taking direction from the experts and Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Restore Illinois Plan for reopening the economy.

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We also understand that parents and students may wonder if an online education is as good as an in-person education. And students may feel that the lack of social interaction makes college less worthwhile. Both of these concerns are real, but public, private and community colleges and universities in Illinois are working hard to enhance the experience for every student no matter which learning environment is available in the fall.

I would add that online education is a needed skill for every young person in today’s knowledge economy. Many jobs require independent, online research and critical evaluation of information gathered from the internet. This is an opportunity to succeed at something young people will need for the rest of their lives.

I appreciate the desire of young people to put down the books for a while, explore the world, try their hand at some kind of job or do community service. Right now, however, the safest and the smartest move is for them to stay on course with learning. When the economy bounces back, they will be in a much better position to succeed.

John Atkinson is chair of the Illinois Board of Higher Education and a managing director at Willis Towers Watson

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May 29, 2020 at 10:21AM

Commentary: The pandemic has new, current college students rethinking their plans. But beware of the gap year trap.

IBHE Names Higher Education Leaders to COVID-19 Campus Reopening Committee

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Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Education

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Education

Following the release of Governor JB Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan, the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) has convened a committee to shape guidance on how campuses across the state can open safely this fall semester amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Deputy Governor for Education Jesse Ruiz said, “I am grateful for IBHE’s leadership on this and look forward to the committee’s recommendations for the 2020-2021 academic year. As always, our priority remains protecting the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff, while providing a high-quality education to prepare students for future careers.” The University of Illinois System, with its deep scientific expertise and on-going statewide work related to COVID-19, will ensure the committee has access to the latest public health research and guidance with a lens that is uniquely focused on higher education. The committee includes:

o IBHE Executive Director Ginger Ostro

o Representatives of Illinois’ public universities
•  Northern Illinois University President Lisa Freeman
•  University of Illinois President Tim Killeen
•  Southern Illinois University President Dan Mahony
•  Chicago State University President Zaldwaynaka “Z” Scott

o Representatives of Illinois’ private colleges and universities
•  Judson University President Gene Crume
•  Loyola University President Jo Ann Rooney
•  Northwestern University President Morton Shapiro
•  University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer
•  Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities President David Tretter

o Representatives of Illinois’ community colleges
•  City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Juan Salgado
•  Illinois Central College President Sheila Quirk-Bailey
•  Lincoln Land Community College President Charlotte Warren
•  Rend Lake College President Terry Wilkerson
•  Illinois Community College Board Executive Director Brian Durham

o Dean and Provost of the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine Jerry Kruse

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May 21, 2020 at 12:42PM

IBHE Names Higher Education Leaders to COVID-19 Campus Reopening Committee

IBHE forms committee to determine how students can return to campuses for fall semester

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SPRINGFIELD (HOI) — As the governor’s Restore Illinois plan moves forward, the Illinois Board of Higher Education has assembled a committee to determine how students can return to universities and colleges for the fall semester throughout the state.

The IBHE said the University of Illinois System will work to ensure the committee has access to the latest public health research and guidance with a lens that is uniquely focused on higher education.

No dates or procedures were released for how the IBHE plans to reopen campuses once the fall semester begins.

The committee includes some local college leaders such as Illinois Central College President Sheila Quirk-Bailey and Lincoln Land Community College President Charlotte Warren.

“We know there is a lot of uncertainty, but one thing that is certain is that Illinois colleges remain the best, most affordable option for many. Whether that means working online to be safe, or a socially-distanced in-person experience, our colleges and universities will be here,” said Ginger Ostro, executive director, IBHE. “As we focus on implementing the Restore Illinois plan across the state’s higher education system, the expertise of these college and university leaders will be invaluable.”

Other members of the committee include:

IBHE Executive Director Ginger Ostro

Representatives of Illinois’ public universities:

  • Northern Illinois University President Lisa Freeman
  • University of Illinois President Tim Killeen
  • Southern Illinois University President Dan Mahony
  • Chicago State University President Zaldwaynaka “Z” Scott

Representatives of Illinois’ private colleges and universities:

  • Judson University President Gene Crume
  • Loyola University President Jo Ann Rooney
  • Northwestern University President Morton Shapiro
  • University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer
  • Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities President David Tretter

Representatives of Illinois’ community colleges:

  • City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Juan Salgado
  • Rend Lake College President Terry Wilkerson
  • Illinois Community College Board Executive Director Brian Durham

Dean and Provost of the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine Jerry Kruse

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May 15, 2020 at 11:47AM

IBHE forms committee to determine how students can return to campuses for fall semester

IBHE forms committee to determine how students can return to campuses for fall semester

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SPRINGFIELD (HOI) — As the governor’s Restore Illinois plan moves forward, the Illinois Board of Higher Education has assembled a committee to determine how students can return to universities and colleges for the fall semester throughout the state.

The IBHE said the University of Illinois System will work to ensure the committee has access to the latest public health research and guidance with a lens that is uniquely focused on higher education.

No dates or procedures were released for how the IBHE plans to reopen campuses once the fall semester begins.

The committee includes some local college leaders such as Illinois Central College President Sheila Quirk-Bailey and Lincoln Land Community College President Charlotte Warren.

“We know there is a lot of uncertainty, but one thing that is certain is that Illinois colleges remain the best, most affordable option for many. Whether that means working online to be safe, or a socially-distanced in-person experience, our colleges and universities will be here,” said Ginger Ostro, executive director, IBHE. “As we focus on implementing the Restore Illinois plan across the state’s higher education system, the expertise of these college and university leaders will be invaluable.”

Other members of the committee include:

IBHE Executive Director Ginger Ostro

Representatives of Illinois’ public universities:

  • Northern Illinois University President Lisa Freeman
  • University of Illinois President Tim Killeen
  • Southern Illinois University President Dan Mahony
  • Chicago State University President Zaldwaynaka “Z” Scott

Representatives of Illinois’ private colleges and universities:

  • Judson University President Gene Crume
  • Loyola University President Jo Ann Rooney
  • Northwestern University President Morton Shapiro
  • University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer
  • Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities President David Tretter

Representatives of Illinois’ community colleges:

  • City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Juan Salgado
  • Rend Lake College President Terry Wilkerson
  • Illinois Community College Board Executive Director Brian Durham

Dean and Provost of the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine Jerry Kruse

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May 15, 2020 at 11:47AM

IBHE forms committee to determine how students can return to campuses for fall semester

4 Things To Know About College Finances In Illinois During The Pandemic

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Colleges and universities across Illinois are starting to reveal how the COVID-19 shutdown is affecting them financially, with many predicting a tough road for years to come.

Funding increases for public higher education under Gov. JB Prtizker could dry up in the budget year that begins July 1 as state revenue drops and costs for health care and unemployment rise. Meanwhile, the state’s large competitive private universities are also reporting budget shortfalls, despite calls from students to tap into their multibillion dollar endowments.

The federal government’s recent coronavirus stimulus package is welcome, but not enough for many colleges to cover major immediate losses due to housing and dining hall refunds.

As many colleges grapple with how to return to in-person classes this fall, university leaders are balancing public safety with the need to balance their budgets. Here’s where universities are as they review their budgets and plan for next year.

Public universities still recovering from the state budget impasse are at risk

Most public universities have yet to fully recover from the state budget impasse that ended in 2017. Experts said they’re worried that universities that saw deep cuts and threats of closure during the impasse will once again be threatened, like Eastern Illinois, Western Illinois and Chicago State University.

“They are the regional comprehensive institutions, they are the workhorses of the state,” said Jennifer Delaney, professor of higher education at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and a member of the Illinois Board of Higher Education. “They are incredibly important institutions in terms of future health and future workforce development of the state, and they will be the hardest hit.”

Other state universities are in better shape but still struggling. Despite recent enrollment gains at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of Illinois at Chicago, system leaders expect to lose $158 million in revenue by June.

Pritzker has proposed additional funding for higher education in his budget, but much of it is contingent on the graduated income tax passing in the fall. It’s unclear how the COVID-19 pandemic affects that vote. The deadline for state lawmakers to pass this year’s budget is May 31.

Private universities are starting to make cuts

Northwestern University is the latest private university in the Chicago area to announce a deficit. The Evanston school says it has a $90 million budget hole, which officials are tackling by cutting pay among senior staff and deans, staff furloughs and suspending retirement contributions for employees.

A Loyola University Chicago library is nearly deserted now that classes have gone online. With a drop off in revenue, Loyola is one of many universities projecting multi-million dollar deficits. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Northwestern is also increasing how much it’s taking from its endowment, though officials insist much of the endowment is restricted and unavailable. Universities with multibillion dollar endowments are being criticized for not tapping more deeply into these funds.

Meanwhile, Loyola University Chicago is projecting a $50 million shortfall. At the University of Chicago, school leaders project a $220 million shortfall. UChicago has announced a hiring and salary freeze so far. DePaul University is estimating an $80 million drop in revenue.

Higher education experts predict the pandemic could especially hurt smaller private universities, many of which were already on shaky financial footing. Some could close or merge if there are fewer students attending college. This risk may be why smaller universities are starting to announce plans to resume in-person classes in the fall. Most larger private universities and public universities have yet to announce plans.

Students will need more aid. Can schools afford it?

Students with family members facing unemployment as a result of the pandemic will undoubtedly need additional federal and state money to pay for college. But it’s not clear the money will be there.

The state under Pritzker last year invested an additional $50 million toward Illinois’ Monetary Award Program, which provides need-based grants for students at in-state schools. But the increase still does not cover every student who qualifies and does not cover full tuition for many universities. Given the state’s financial struggles now, it’s unclear if increasing the investment in MAP will continue in the budget year that begins July 1, though there is a lot of support for the program.

Meanwhile, colleges are already competing against each other for college-aged students, a group shrinking nationally.

“Regional comprehensives [institutions] aren’t necessarily positioned to draw in large international or out-of-state students, so everyone’s institution’s market share limits what they are able to do in terms of developing new revenues,” Delaney said.

Some schools are trying to offer additional benefits to lure possible students, including lowering the tuition bill. U of I has already waived tuition increases set for next fall, while City Colleges of Chicago tabled most of their proposed tuition increases.

School officials are hoping these moves will both improve their bottom line as well as help students who may be struggling financially because of the pandemic.

Community college inequities could widen

Community colleges could also see funding declines, too. They largely rely on local property taxes but are also dependent on state money, which is at risk of declining this year.

Typically, Illinois provides block grants to community colleges in poorer areas to balance out inequities within the state. If that funding is reduced, experts say we may not see community colleges close, but there could be disparities between colleges in areas with stable tax bases and those in poorer areas.

City Colleges of Chicago was already projecting a $17 million deficit before the pandemic, which they wanted to fill with tuition increases. Leaders there have decided not to increase tuition, but it’s unclear how they will fill those gaps. They would not provide specifics when asked.

In a typical recession, it’s common to see college enrollment increase as people are laid off and return to retrain or build new skills, especially at community colleges where tuition is lower. But experts said public health concerns make it difficult to know if a typical enrollment surge is likely. If enrollment goes up just as the state slashes funding for higher education, it could create problems for schools who lack the money or staffing to handle an influx of new students.

Kate McGee covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter @WBEZeducation and @McGeeReports.

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May 13, 2020 at 11:59AM

4 Things To Know About College Finances In Illinois During The Pandemic