President Peters discusses Vision 2020, new online degree programs

By Matt Liparota

By 2020, NIU hopes to have 30,000 students enrolled.

This announcement came as part of President John Peters’ annual State of the University address Thursday afternoon. For the second year, the speech focused on the Vision 2020 initiative.

During last year’s speech, Peters unveiled Vision 2020 – an initiative intended to reinvigorate the university and boost enrollment by the end of the decade. This time, Peters gave updates on recommendations given by various initiative working committees.

“30,000 students – that’s a dramatic increase – more than 25 percent greater than our expected enrollment this fall,” Peters said.

Without increased state support, Peters said, growing enrollment is the best alternative available for NIU to move past “survival mode.”

Most of this growth will focus on traditional students, Peters said. According to the plan, the university should have 27,500 on-campus students, he said.

To reach its enrollment goals, Peters said the university must also focus on off-campus enrollment. Of the 30,000 students in NIU’s service region – including areas covered by satellite campuses in Rockford and Naperville – only 1 percent are NIU students, which amounts to about 3,000.

“We must do a better job,” Peters said.

An increased focus on online learning will play a role in this initiative, Peters said.

“Students are turning to virtual universities,” Peters said. “And frankly, we have so much more to offer.”

Peters stressed the necessity of establishing 42 new online degree programs, as per the working groups’ recommendation.

Increasing the caliber of students NIU produces is also a key goal of Vision 2020, Peters said.

By 2020, the university aims to double the number of incoming freshmen who graduate from high school in the top 10 percent of their class and boost the number of new freshmen in the top quarter to 40 percent.

Improving campus facilities is also a key aspect of attracting new students. Peters said this is being implemented through the new residence hall construction and renovations to Grant Towers, Gilbert Hall and Cole Hall. Peters also announced that by fall 2012, half of the university’s residence halls will have full wireless Internet coverage, with a goal of making the entire campus Wi-Fi enabled by 2015.

University finances were also a part of Peters’ address. As of Thursday, the state still owed NIU about $46 million in promised monies.

Peters noted that in his 12 years at NIU, the university has faced “one financial crisis after another” due to state practices.

“For some time now, we have been forced to operate in survival mode,” Peters said.

By way of example, Peters said state-appropriated general revenue funding for the university this year is less than it was in 1999.

“To put that into perspective, at that time, members of our new freshman class were in first grade,” Peters said.

State Senator Christine Johnson, who was in attendance Thursday, said she agreed with the recommendations from the working committees.

“I was very enthused by [the speech],” Johnson said. “I agree with all the good ideas brought forward.”

As Peters closed his address, he said he believed the future ahead of NIU is a bright one.

“In hardship, you either shrink or grow,” Peters said. “We choose to grow.”