NIU Rockford site approved

By Vickie Snow

DECATUR – NIU received the go-ahead to build a graduate studies center in Rockford at Wednesday’s Illinois Board of Higher Education meeting.

The IBHE unanimously approved NIU’s long-awaited request to increase its educational presence in Rockford, about 30 miles west of DeKalb.

NIU plans to offer graduate-level courses in computer science, corporate communication, graduate engineering and technology, graduate nursing, public administration and allied health at the center, which ultimately will serve 2,800 students.

The programs will be geared toward place-bound, part-time students who aren’t offered such programs at local institutions.

Sen. Joyce Holmberg, D-Rockford, said “what Rockford truly needs for growth is upper-level classes.” She said not only will the center serve an educational purpose, but it will also provide revenue.

Charles Box, mayor of Rockford, called the center “one piece of the puzzle that’s missing…for economic vitality and potential growth.”

“People are thirsting for more information,” he said.

Area business leaders also were present at the meeting to voice their concerns about the much-needed facility.

“This is not only the city of Rockford that’s talking,” said Robert Frederickson, Rock River division vice president of Commonwealth Edison. “This is the region speaking.”

NIU President John La Tourette said the center will serve a population of 500,000, reaching out from Rockford to the east near Belvidere, to the west near Freeport and up to the Wisconsin border.

La Tourette said a site for the center might be chosen by October and he is prepared to move quickly.

Sen. Holmberg said the choices for a site, some which have been donated, are being narrowed.

The center’s approval is an answer to long-stemmed concerns about reaching out to areas other than DeKalb.

Last November, the General Assembly overrode Gov. James Thompson’s veto of the $500,000 allocated for planning the center. Then in February, Gov. Thompson agreed to release the money, which was reappropriated to the fiscal year 1991 budget in July.

Gov. Thompson has until next July to release the money.

“We (the IBHE) have been very slow in responding to underserved areas,” said IBHE Executive Director Richard Wagner. However, the IBHE has been instrumental in improving educational opportunities in such areas as DuPage County, the Quad Cities and Peoria, he said.