EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the last of six stories in the JG-TC’s “State of the University” series focusing on Eastern Illinois University’s recent years of declining enrollment, and financial challenges related to the Illinois state budget impasse. This installment looks at elements that will help shape the university’s future.
CHARLESTON — The state budget impasse has been an unintended “distraction” for Eastern Illinois University, according to the university president, but plans moving forward are intended to keep the institution in a good place.
These plans do not include budget cuts, David Glassman said.
“Because of the things that we did last year with layoffs and furloughing and so on, we positioned ourselves to be in an efficient budgetary position right now,” Glassman said. “We’re OK.”
Right now, the university has 1,224 employees, including 737 staff and 487 faculty. When the layoff process started, the university had 1,743 employees.
“We anticipate that there will be another stop gap or budget at some time,” Glassman said.
The university has not received money since the last stop-gap funding measure that ended at the end of the year. If history is any indication of when Eastern might receive the funds, Glassman noted it likely would not be until the end of May. That time last year the university received the first of many stop-gap funding measures.
More recently, a house bill allocating more than $800 million in stop-gap funding passed through the Illinois House of Representatives without approval from Gov. Bruce Rauner. The bill now sits in the Illinois Senate.
While he liked the bill, state Rep. Reggie Phillips, R-Charleston, did not vote “yes” on it. He said he saw the bill as “dead on arrival.”
“It is not going anywhere,” Phillips said. “Say it passes at the end of May out of the Senate. Then, the governor has 60 days to sit on it. It’s dead… At the end of 60 days, he can veto it, which he will.”
Phillips is hedging his bets on the chance for a full budget with full funding to universities in the near future. Phillips said by the time the legislature is back in session, there should be a “grand bargain” budget proposal plan created by Senate leaders.
Phillips said he was hopeful for the chance to finally see the budget jam break before now, however, he thinks there is still a good chance it might fail.
“If terms limits are a part of that budget, it is going nowhere,” Phillips said. “(House Speaker Michael Madigan) has made it perfectly clear. He wants a budget based on the way it has been done in the past without any turnaround agenda on it. The question is: Will the governor’s and Madigan’s offices be able to work with each other to save face?
“If we don’t get it done by May 31st, then this is the way we are going to be until 2018,” Phillips continued.
Beyond calling for funding, Glassman said Eastern and other state university officials have been working on pushing for predictable and stable funding. Glassman said the universities need to know from year to year how much money they are getting from the state.
The lack of predictability has made planning financially a significant challenge, Glassman said.
Despite what happens at the state level, Glassman said Eastern will be focusing on bringing people to campus through further strategic investments in marketing.
Stacia Lynch, EIU marketing director, said the university has been enhancing its advertising and exposure.
“We’ve worked diligently to increase our exposure locally and in the Chicago suburbs,” Lynch said. “These efforts have primarily centered around recruiting events such as Admitted Student Day events in Chicago and on-campus and open houses. In Chicago, our ads appeared in the Chicago Tribune suburban network newspapers, online, on-air with WGN radio, and online with Comcast.”
The same is being done locally, targeting prospective regional students.
The university is also continuing a campaign in theaters as well, where an ad for Eastern will run prior to movies in a number of local and suburban Chicago venues.
“The end goal for all of our efforts is to get prospective students to visit campus. We know that one of our most powerful recruiting tools is the campus visit,” Lynch said.
The university has also sought guidance from a national advertising agency, Thorburn Group, which is tasked with helping Eastern best communicate the stories of those at the university.
Lynch said these moves will help get students to campus, however, it will not necessarily directly boost enrollment.
“I don’t believe there is any statistic that can directly correlate admissions with advertising, though I believe people may think that’s the case,” she said. “In reality, it is the sum total of all of a prospects’ experiences that get them to commit to EIU. We may pique their interest, educate them about Eastern, and motivate them to visit, but without a solidly positive campus experience, none of that would matter.”
Currently, the university is also running through the list of recommendations provided by the Vitalization Project, which was started late last year with groups tasked with identifying efficiencies and possibilities to make the university more marketable.
The recommendations are listed on the Vitalization Project website. Most recently, university officials have placed updated lists of changes made as a result of the project so far on the site with the recommendations.