Board appoints former state rep.

Board appoints former state rep.

By Jessie Kern

DeKALB — A new face on the Board of Trustees plans to increase focus on  enrollment and recruitment issues plaguing NIU.

The NIU Board of Trustees welcomed former state representative Robert Pritchard who will be replacing retiring trustee Bob Boey. Governor Bruce Rauner appointed Pritchard to the Board after Pritchard spent 15 years in the House representing the 70th district.

Pritchard represented residents in sections of DeKalb, Kane and Boone counties and displayed a great focus on K12 and higher education issues.

“Bob is a very strong addition to the NIU board,” Rauner said in a June 28 news release. “He has a working knowledge of the challenges facing higher education, and he is well equipped to advocate for the university, its students and the public-at-large on issues ranging from affordability to access.”

Pritchard said when starting in legislature in 2004 he quickly began working on education issues, with K12 a big aspect. He also served on higher education committees in appropriation and policy.

“I’ve had that experience for the past 15 years of looking at what we’ve done to not only K12, but higher education in terms of lack of funding and the issues that has created,” Pritchard said.

He said in the past year he served on a group which looked at issues in higher education like Illinois residents attending universities in other states. He also said the group worked on passing a $25 million grant for institutions to match, giving them $50 million to help offset some of the costs.

“The state has defunded higher education for the past 18 years and that has required universities to rely on increasing student tuition and fees,” Pritchard said. “That makes us uncompetitive.”

Pritchard said the Board needs to look at other aspects deterring students from attending NIU such as cost, map grants, safety and the needs of the surrounding community. He said when serving in legislature and speaking with public universities, recruitment has been the largest issue.

Pritchard said the recruitment process is essential in yielding results to growing enrollment. He said other universities like University of Illinois, and to an extent Illinois State University, are much more aggressive in their recruitment, getting contacts with high schools and counselors.

“We’ve got to step up our game here at Northern and reach out and have various departments reach out to students interested in those departments so that there’s a relationship, an amenity,” Pritchard said. “Often times I think that can influence students coming to the institutions.”

Pritchard said other universities are more welcoming with faculty who seem happy to teach their students and he thinks every employee at Northern sees getting students as job number one.

“Bob Pritchard has been a good friend to NIU, is a strong advocate for higher education and keenly understands the importance of our university to the region and state, along with the challenges we face,” NIU Acting President Lisa Freeman said in a June 28 NIU Today article. “We welcome him to the Board of Trustees and look forward to working with him in the future.”

Pritchard said the university needs to focus on recruiting students to help keep costs down and continue in the direction of focusing on research, internships and student success. He said NIU can be a career-changing university and he hopes to give students the opportunity to attend a world class institution by right-sizing the system and how higher education is funded.

“We’ve got to come back to again attracting students and selling the value of our education so I look forward to that challenge and opportunity.”

The presidential search is a big focus for the Board of Trustees and will continue to be so until the position is filled.

Pritchard intends to assist the Board in hiring a new president and has several expectations for candidates. He is a native of the area and his wife, Mary, spent most of her career as a faculty member at NIU.

Pritchard said first and foremost the Board should be focused on hiring a new president. He said there are key staff member positions, like deans, attempting to be filled but candidates are hesitant without knowing who the president will be.

“The president sets the tone and the direction of the university,” Pritchard said.

Pritchard said he has been watching NIU for 50 to 60 years and has been able to witness what has worked, what has been deficient and what has assisted in building the relationship between the university and city of DeKalb.

“I think we’ve got to look at someone that is going to, again, be very active in the community, someone that is concerned with student recruitment, as I’ve mentioned, and managing a multi-million hundred dollar operation,” Pritchard said.

He said his work in legislature centered on studying, gathering facts, listening to people and bringing it all into a conclusion and decision. He said he will take advantage of the steps already taken by the Board and continue the work in identifying the needs and wants of the university in the next president.

“I think a president needs to be engaged and needs to be gregarious, meet with people, interact well with people, have a vision of where they’re trying to go, be able to analyze the facts, the evidence if you will and come to decisions and set policy for the university, and work with the board in setting that policy so those are the kinds of directions of things I’d like to see,” he said.