DeKALB — Faculty are most concerned about enrollment and retention, according to survey results presented at the Faculty Senate meeting Wednesday.
The survey asked faculty senators to rank their top five concerns out of 19 choices. The scores were weighted based on how many times issues ranked in the top one concern, the top two concern and so on.
Enrollment, recruitment and retention were the highest ranked concerns at 160 points, with 18 faculty considering it their top choice. The next issue was tenure- track lines at 90 points. Equity gaps came in third with 78 points, followed by decentralizing budget at 74 points. Faculty voted classroom issues and technology as their fifth-highest concern with 63 points.
NIU’s enrollment has dropped steadily since 2009, according to university counts.
The university’s latest enrollment numbers showed a 560 student drop from last fall.
The administration responded with the Strategic Enrollment Management Plan in January. It aims to boost enrollment by expanding NIU’s brand, targeting key demographics and closing equity gaps.
Kendall Thu, president of the Faculty Senate, said the senate is brainstorming ideas to complete the administration’s enrollment plan.
There are a lot of factors causing the enrollment decline, including first-time students choosing out-of-state schools and the changing reputation of higher education, he said.
“Can [enrollment plans] make an overall difference?” he said. “I don’t know, but we can’t do nothing.”
Eight senators ranked tenure- track lines as their primary concern.
Thu said senators hope to maintain tenure-track faculty as the teaching base of the university.
Federal data shows 73% of faculty positions across the nation are not tenure-track, such as adjunct and instructor positions.
An analysis by the American Association of University Professions describes most of these positions as “insecure, unsupported positions with little job security and few protections for academic freedom.”
Most of the faculty positions at NIU are not tenured or tenure-track by a slim margin, according to NIU’s databook. Across all academic departments, 51% of faculty positions are not tenured or tenure-track.
Thu said he hopes the university can keep those numbers from slipping further and to avoid becoming reliant on instructors and adjuncts — although he does acknowledge those positions as having an important role to play in the university as teaching staff.
Equity gaps and optional testing
Equity gaps were ranked as the third-highest concern for faculty.
The university’s testing-optional admissions proposal could address some of those gaps.
Beth Ingram, executive vice president and provost, presented a proposal for a testing-optional admissions policy.
The proposal references studies that show test scores from the ACT and SAT correlate most strongly with family income, while high school GPA shows a much stronger correlation to success at higher education.
The proposed policy would automatically admit students with a 3.0 GPA or up, which is increased from the 2.75 GPA or up that it is now.
Thu said the proposal received overwhelming support from the Faculty Senate and the Student Association. Optional testing could alleviate the pressure for many high school students, he said.
“I have two daughers — one went to University of Iowa, the other is currently a student at Arizona State,” he said. “Both of them took the ACT, … and the other part of it that is not inconsequential is the amount of stress and strain it puts on students who are already feeling the stress and strain of trying to get into college.”
Faculty ranked decentralizing the budget as their fourth concern.
Since the 2016 budget impasse, where NIU received 28% of its FY2015 budget, the provost’s office has had final budgetary authority in order to ensure the university stayed afloat, Thu said.
Thu said the goal is to move away from that model. Each college would be given a budget and the authority to distribute it, he said.
He said there isn’t a consensus on how this will look, and he isn’t sure how this will impact students.
The hope is that giving colleges budgetary control will result in more beneficial spending decisions, causing the academic environment to improve, he said.
Classroom issues and technology
Rounding out the top five faculty concerns are classroom issues and technology.
Thu said academic spaces are a faculty and student issue that needs to be addressed.
“I’ve taught in many different rooms across campus, and there’s a lack of consistency in technology across buildings,” he said.
NIU’s capital budget plans for $53 million for building projects, with DuSable Hall renovation listed as a priority. Unlike the operating budget, the capital budget depends on the state receiving the predicted income from taxes.