NIU wins battle in suburbs

By Vickie Snow

CHICAGO—NIU is bloodied, but still standing in its quest to educate the suburbs.

Despite a showdown of opposition from private universities and business leaders, NIU got the green light for the Hoffman Estates Center on Tuesday.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education voted 9-6 to establish the center, consolidating off-campus courses that serve about 5,000 students near the growing Highway I-90, also known as the industrial corridor.

The 35,000 square-foot facility is a joint venture with Sears, Roebuck and Co. and will be part of the Sears Merchandising Group Corporate Headquarters Business Park that is underway.

Protesters challenged that the venture would waste state tax money by duplicating courses, turning the fight into a battle between public and private institutions.

Establishing the center “would result in a duplication of programming, a waste of state funds and probable damage to Roosevelt University and other private institutions,” said Theodore L. Gross, president of Roosevelt University.

NIU President John La Tourette and eight other speakers adamantly defended the proposal.

“Public universities are providing only about 15 percent of the 41,000 enrollment in the I-90 area,” La Tourette said. “Certainly, it is not the case that the publics are driving out the privates.”

Hoffman Estates Mayor Michael O’Malley urged the board to “bring an excellent educational center to our doorstep.”

Because the facility will combine existing off-campus courses scattered throughout the North-Northwest suburbs, money supporting the programs would be reallocated for the new facility and no extra state dollars would be required, La Tourette said.

By combining the courses at one site, students also will have access to NIU’s library and computer system.

While Gross said the market is too saturated to let NIU build another center, he plans to double the enrollment at Roosevelt University’s center in Arlington Heights within five years, La Tourette charged.

A spokesperson from Northwestern University said the proposal “deserves more study and less action.”

While some proposed delaying any action until a statewide needs assessment was conducted, others pressured the board to get the ball rolling.

“It seems apparent there’s no duplication of courses,” said IBHE member Brewster Parker.

“There’s a huge audience to serve and much to be done in our area,” said Paul Heath, president of Elgin Community College.

“We don’t threaten anyone except, perhaps, in the quality of our programs,” La Tourette said.

“We want this accepted as a signal that we can work together,” La Tourette said, adding that universities should concentrate on doing more for students than worrying about getting on each other’s turf.

Gaylen Larson, group vice president of Household International Inc. in Prospect Heights, said Roosevelt University “is not offering the quality and affordability of programs we can get from Northern.”

“We would be derelict in our duty to public education to ignore (the proposal),” said Board of Regents Chancellor Roderick Groves. The board governs NIU.

Rep. Terry Parke, R-Schaumburg, said the center is “a northwest economic engine that will drive Illinois to success.”