NIU President Lisa Freeman spoke at Thursday’s Operating Staff Council Meeting. The following are excerpts from her speech. The speech was lightly edited for clarity and consistency.
In our enrollment management operation, we made a lot of changes. Some of them are more in process than others, but we engaged a partner in Wiley [Education Services] to help us market and support students who are signing up for online courses.
We set a bunch of targets for ... six specific programs, five of them are graduate programs, masters level. One was a degree-completion program in nursing, and we beat all those targets. So yes, engaging Wiley [Education Services] helped us increase our online enrollment significantly both in terms of our headcount and the number of credit hours. We also have started reaching back to sophomores and juniors, not just seniors.
We won’t see the big effect of that on enrollment until another year, but this summer our open houses were all up 30 percent.
Our applications were up and they were up right after we added a partner to help streamline our application process. Our out of state student numbers were up, and they were up because we made in-state and out-of-state tuition equal ... graduate, professional and law were all up.
So I guess the bottom line message to me is, in terms of the way we recruit students, we’ve done things differently. We haven’t done them the way we’ve always done it. We’ve engaged new partners, we’ve started being smarter about how we target our advertising, and we saw an effect.
The reason that overall enrollment was down — and it was down three percent, so it was down less than it has been in the past — is in part because we’re still making up for the fact that we’ve graduated big classes and we’ve been admitting smaller classes and because we need to work on student retention and persistence in graduation rates.
We have to start really attacking the graduation rate issue, the equity gaps that appear between our students who have lower financial means or students who are first generation or students from minority groups and the rest of our students, and there are meaningful ways we can do it, and we’re starting to do it ... I’m actually pretty optimistic about enrollment.
Our predictions say next year we’re not going see a big increase either. We’re going see sort of one more year where we level out, and then we’ll start to go up, and we’ll stabilize between 17,000 and 18,000 [students].
But if we weren’t doing all this stuff, we would’ve dropped by a lot more than three percent.
Expanded benefits package for staff
The presidential commission on the status of women did an incredibly thorough, detailed and thoughtful report on what it means to work at this institution and have a new child in the house or an elder care issue arise.
And [we] did surveys, [we] did benchmarking and [we] made very concrete suggestions about things the university could do to help our employees succeed both in the Huskie family and in their own families, and those ideas came forward.
Managing workload in the face of tightening budgets and wanting to empower staff
One of the most important things that we can do together is to figure out not how to do more with less, but rather, how to do less with less. There are things we can stop doing completely and there are things we can do more efficiently without impacting our students and our faculty and our mission.
Frankly, our staff is in the best position to help us figure that out, and staff need to be empowered, or, as Huskies say, unleashed, to do that. In my office hours, I’ve heard really good ideas from NIU staff who were not afraid to tell me but who were afraid to tell their direct supervisor how they thought we could do things better.
Going back to what I said about leadership training, we need to make sure that supervisors and employees know that they have the autonomy and flexibility to try to do things differently ... and when we propose those types of changes, some of them may be highly successful and help us achieve our goals, and some of them may fail and, you know what, that’s okay.
It’s alright to have a good idea, to try it and to say it didn’t work, but I know that not everybody feels that they are trusted to do that or that they have the autonomy or the flexibility or agency to do that, and that’s something we really need to work on.
Doing ‘less with less’
I would like to do less with less. I think we have to figure out how to do less with less.
Realistically, we’re not gonna get more and so what we need to do is figure out how to be [a] 17,000 to 18,000 student university with about the level of state funding we have now and how we manage to execute our jobs without killing ourselves, and I know that we need to do less with less but what I don’t know is in your unit ... what that means.
Mission, vision and value statements
Over the summer, members of the university leadership team, members of the senior round table and the academic leadership: the dean’s and members of the provost’s office, considered our revised mission, vision and value statements along with the trustees priorities, the presidential/ institutional goals and then the existing college and divisional strategic priorities and plans.
And from these we extracted six strategic themes to serve as a framework ... student recruitment and student success, academic excellence and curriculum innovation, diversity, equity and inclusion, empowerment and shared responsibility, research, artistry and engagement and resource development and fiscal responsibility.