As chancellor of Chicago’s largest university and its only public research university, I’m often asked how the University of Illinois at Chicago can continue to grow and thrive in today’s environment. My answer is that we have only one option: Escape forward.
The good news is that we continue to enroll and educate more students every year. Students and their families vote with their feet and place their trust in us. Total enrollment has grown to a record-breaking high of 29,120 students. Ninety-four percent of our undergraduates are from Illinois and approximately two-thirds are from the Chicagoland area. UIC has remained true to its original mission of educating the sons and daughters of Chicago and Illinois.
We do so with the quality and distinction of a world-class university, as recognized in the most prestigious world rankings. The Times Higher Education lists UIC in the top 200 universities in the world with only 63 American universities, public and private, included in this category. In addition, we provide excellent health care services to the residents of Illinois and beyond, and we set the national standard for comprehensive diversity and inclusion. We accomplish these feats and many more even without adequate public funding to do so.
The bad news is that every day that passes without a state budget makes it more difficult to continue achieving our goals. The stalemate in Springfield has resulted in dramatically reduced state allocations for higher education over the last two fiscal years and has created an environment of uncertainty for the future. This situation makes it more difficult to provide the services our students need, to recruit and retain the best faculty and health care providers, and to work with and support our partners in the surrounding communities.
Over the last two years, we have done our part. We have taken a hard look at ourselves and made a lot of changes. We reorganized our internal operations to improve efficiency and reduce costs. And we are moving forward with public-private partnerships in critical areas, such as international student recruiting, online degree program delivery and capital infrastructure.
In all of these cases, we are using private capital to build the necessary infrastructure, whether it is human services—such as a global network of student recruiters—or capital projects, such as a new complex including dormitories and classrooms. We expect that with this infrastructure we will create reliable revenue streams to pay back the initial investment and continue to support the university and its students.
As Crain’s recently noted, the UIC College of Engineering is just one example of our success. Its growing enrollment is based on the quality of its programs and the growth of demand both nationally and locally. This has led to the expansion of the faculty and the need for new classrooms and lab spaces to ensure our students meet the employer demands for top-notch talent. Once again, we are addressing these needs with innovative solutions both in terms of building design and financing.
So how do we escape forward? We do so with a spirit of innovation and excitement for the future, but also with great pride for our accomplishments and contributions and with a renewed conviction to our public mission and core values. And we escape forward together with our friends and partners in the city and across the state.
Isn’t it time that the state of Illinois does the same?
Michael D. Amiridis is chancellor of the University of Illinois at Chicago.