The System Connection - October 4, 2017

President's Column


Elsewhere in this edition of the Connection you’ll read about a proposal to reform Illinois public higher education that’s being introduced by two ranking members of important higher education committees in their respective chambers, Rep. Dan Brady and Sen. Chapin Rose. I don’t need to recount the specific elements of their proposal – which you can read for yourself – but I wanted to use the column this week to share a couple of thoughts about it, given what we know at this juncture.

[It’s probably important to note that the lawmakers’ proposed legislation has been introduced only in the Illinois House so far – as HB 4103 – but we anticipate a companion bill will be dropped into the Senate’s hopper soon.]

Thought #1: The almost reflexive response to this bill for many in our community might be to look at ways to initially discredit it, and then move forward in any way possible to kill it off. Playing defense on the legislation, if you will, that would be a serious mistake.

Given what our state has been through during the two years of the budget impasse, and the continuing challenges that we know are facing Illinois’ economic and fiscal future, we can’t be deaf to reasonable and thoughtful proposals which have a goal of making the state’s higher education system more efficient, saving taxpayer dollars in the process, and holding a lid on the ever-increasing price of tuition at our public universities.

Albeit a private school with a multi-billion dollar endowment, even Harvard isn’t immune to such a responsibility!  In the midst of the Great Recession – as it was dealing with record endowment losses and illiquid investments – a high-powered Harvard alum who was active in university affairs was quoted in Boston magazine’s June 2009 issue as saying, “We want a sustainable, long-term, top-notch university. And we can’t be all things to all people.” (Emphasis mine.)

Mike Smith, Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences dean at the time, acknowledged there were no “loose dollars” left, and that inefficiencies had to end.

Smith’s quote from the same article capsulizes our situation in Illinois right now: “It is extremely important for us to think deeply about how we not only resize our activities…[but] really start thinking about reshaping those activities.”

Examining various avenues to better target limited resources to clearly defined institutional strengths - and in the process maybe giving improved opportunities to the future students of Illinois’ public higher education system - is a legitimate and necessary public policy conversation worth having. HIED’s reality has changed dramatically – particularly for those of us in the public sector…and amplified even more so for those of us in Illinois – and we won’t be going back to the heyday of a quarter-century ago when enrollments were growing each year and we could consistently depend upon a significant annual percentage increase in state appropriations.

Just doing “more of the same” now is not going to build back what was one of our nation’s strongest systems of public higher education back in that heyday.  And no…I’m not saying that I agree with every aspect of the Brady/Rose bill, and as the legislators themselves have acknowledged, this is a starting point and work will need to take place on what’s been proposed. But, it’s time to engage on the question. SIU welcomes that opportunity, and we will be fully involved in the ongoing dialogue through the upcoming legislative session and beyond.

Thought #2: The legislative plan to overhaul and reform Illinois’ higher education system doesn’t go far enough.

If the institutions themselves must be open to reform and increased efficiencies, so must the state agencies charged with the governance and oversight of our work.

There are currently four state agencies – each with their own stand-alone governing boards – with direct responsibilities for P-20 education in Illinois, including three separate agencies just for higher education: the Illinois Community College Board, the Illinois Board of Higher Education, and the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. Beyond that, over a dozen other state agencies control some related aspect of the education function in our state. The roles and responsibilities of these organizations are not unalike in type and scope – they award and manage grants and contracts, prepare portions of the larger state budget, develop needed administrative rules, ensure program compliance and conduct audits, and handle other administrative leadership duties common to community colleges, universities, and the students they serve. Other states have figured out the means to cover these same tasks with fewer agencies; it’s a question we should now be willing to explore in Illinois during this period of reform.

Too, on Sept. 12, the Chicago Tribune editorialized that it is time to take the dozen state university “fiefdoms” reporting to nine separate boards and have us all instead report to one centrally overseen entity.

Let me be clear: I am not one who promotes the importation of a Wisconsin, SUNY (State University of New York), or Cal/Cal State statewide governance structure for Illinois. In my view, such large systems are too unwieldy to provide for a meaningful measure of centralized oversight while protecting the various interests and missions of the underlying institutions.

However, until the last round of HIED reform here during the mid-1990s, Illinois was a “system of systems” state – with the public universities reporting to only four boards: the University of Illinois System, the Southern Illinois University System, the Board of Regents, and the Board of Governors.  Again, I’m not arguing this type of reorganization is a magic bullet (it’s not), but the streamlining and consolidation of various “back office” business operations is something which the public and its legislators will continue to demand for reducing overhead and administrative costs…and just maybe freeing up more dollars for classrooms.

I know…higher education reform could just be déjà vu all over again. Or we may have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a new model of a state system that strengthens our institutions, improves education for students, and is respectful of taxpayers’ desire to constrain replication and redundancy in the services it provides its citizens.

We can’t sit this one out.

Randy Dunn

Major HiEd Reorganization Legislation Introduced

Brady and Rose Higher Education

Dramatic changes to the way public universities operate are being proposed at the state capitol.

Two state lawmakers want to tackle the growing problem of high school students leaving Illinois to attend college and their legislative proposal contains some far-reaching changes for higher education. State Sen. Chapin Rose and State Rep. Dan Brady have filed legislation that, if passed, would overhaul higher education and require each state university to focus on strong programs while moving away from lesser-performing ones.

In developing their plan – which they believe would allow each university to focus on its strengths, make applying to college easier for students and ultimately save taxpayer dollars – Rose and Brady noted that enrollment at Illinois public universities and community colleges declined by 50,000 students between 1991 and 2014.

According to Rose, “The structural problems of higher education far transcend the last couple of years during the budget impasse. . . This legislation is a thoughtful and methodical approach to reform, but make no mistake, higher education in America is facing unprecedented challenges and changes are needed for a strong and dynamic vision for our cherished institutions. We must carefully, but swiftly, move to protect our strengths.”

If this legislation is adopted speedy changes would take place, including the creation of a single, uniform admission application for all public universities. Also, all high school students with a GPA of “B” or better would automatically qualify for admission to a public university, provided they maintain their “B” average through graduation. Those not offered university admission would automatically be referred to the community college district where they live and provided with enrollment information.

Even more striking, the legislation will require the identification of the most successful academic programs statewide so the state legislature can, as Sen. Rose and Rep. Brady’s press announcement states, “insure that it is using taxpayer dollars wisely” in supporting the state’s needs. To do this, the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) will be given new oversight powers to study and then rank every academic department so the state and potential students can compare performance with other similar or related departments across the 12 Illinois public universities. The board will also study the opportunity to award merit-based financial aid to students.

For the top eight ranked academic departments statewide, the IBHE will also be charged with performing an economic efficiency review on each campus to determine the optimal level of student population at each university and each department to maximize efficiency. Following that analysis, for each department not ranked within the top eight, IBHE shall evaluate the demand for that departmental program, effectively determining which should be prioritized at each university.

In addition to reviewing programmatic expansion, the IBHE will recommend elimination of programs with low enrollment. The IBHE will also produce a statement of excellence for each university, determining each university’s greatest academic strengths and guiding the future mission and priorities of each university. Going forward, prior to approving expansions or new programs, the IBHE will need to certify that there is unmet need and a market-demand analysis for growth in a program. Finally, institutions will need to ensure they can offer a quality program that is cheaper for students than existing options elsewhere in the area and that the opening of such programs does not negatively impact optimal efficient of existing higher education infrastructure.


As many of you know, for years members of the Illinois General Assembly have said emphatically that universities must right-size and focus on what they do best. And while we have annually been questioned about our ongoing efforts toward that end during spring budget hearings in Springfield, there has been no movement from the state legislature to mandate these changes. Until now.

We will continue to monitor the progress of this proposal and report back to the SIU community as we learn more. In the meantime, you can track the progress of the Brady/Rose bill (HB 4103) at this link:

College Changes Everything

College Changes Everything

October is College Changes Everything month in Illinois, meaning that it is now time for those planning to go to college to submit their college applications AND file all of their FAFSA paperwork.

The FAFSA serves as the application for all federal financial aid and some state aid, including the Illinois Monetary Award Program (MAP) grant. The United States Department of Education last year officially moved to early FAFSA filing, so students can submit their 2018-2019 FAFSAs beginning Oct. 1, 2017, rather than filing in the spring as used to be the norm.

The state’s two-year budget delay created challenges for universities and their students. In an effort to get everything back on track, Governor Bruce Rauner has proclaimed October College Changes Everything Month, combining the activities of College Application Month and Financial Aid Awareness Month.

The need for financial assistance continues to grow, so students are encouraged to complete their 2018-2019 FAFSAs as soon as possible after Oct. 1 to increase their chances of securing state and federal funding.

The Illinois Student Assistance Commission offers free assistance to students and families throughout the year, but during CCE month, ISAC and its partners are sponsoring more than a thousand workshops to help students find the college that’s right for them, complete admission applications and fill out the FAFSA. Members of the ISACorps, a specially trained group of recent college graduates, serve as peer mentors and help students with the college and FAFSA application processes and other aspects of college preparation.

Find information about scheduled and the local ISACorps member online at A series of Facebook Live events (@ILStudentAssistance) events is set for Oct. 11, 16, 23 and 30 from 7 to 7:30 p.m. and personalized assistance is also available through ISAC College Q & A, a test messaging service, or through the call center at 800-899-4722.

Be sure and spread the word to friends and family about College Changes Everything Month and the new FAFSA timeline. And encourage them to submit their Southern Illinois University applications. SIUC and SIUE are both tremendous schools, as you well know!

Sending Out an SOS

Randy Dunn

(With apologies to Sting and The Police, the headline was too good not to use.)

As mentioned in the previous edition, the 2017 State of the System address by President Dunn will be posted to YouTube and pushed out to all SIU faculty and staff on Wednesday, Oct. 18, in lieu of The System Connection for that week.

A little time will be set aside at the end for answering a few randomly chosen questions to close out the brief address. If you want to submit a question (anonymously or otherwise) for consideration of getting picked to be answered on the video, send it to Brad Visintin at

Don’t forget, too, that the president is always willing to attend meetings of campus groups, organizations, or other units for more detailed Q&A and an opportunity for focused discussion as the schedule permits. Those arrangements can be made at using the “President Attendance Request” link or simply by contacting Paula Keith at 618-536-3471 or

SIU Participates in the “Salute to Illinois Scholars”

Salute to Scholars

The Southern Illinois University System, the University of Illinois System, and Eastern Illinois University joined together this fall to offer a new university recruitment event primarily for east central and Southern Illinois high school students – an area generally south of I-70, including the Metro East region. The event has been tagged as a “Salute to Illinois Scholars.”

The U of I has done a similar – and popular – regional recruiting event in Chicago for 35 years, especially looking to expand outreach and college-going opportunities for high-performing high school students, community college transfers, and all students from underrepresented minorities. A major portion of the SIS event included a college fair highlighting programs at the six universities represented (SIUC, SIUE, UIUC, UIC, UIS, EIU.) It also offered presentations on such issues as housing, financial aid, and admissions. A luncheon featured brief presentations from a student panel and the three university presidents.

A BIG thanks goes to the numerous personnel from the SIU campuses who staffed the SIS day, which was held in Mt. Vernon on Sept. 12. Special recognition is extended to enrollment staffers Todd Burrell and Scott Belobrajdic, from Edwardsville, and Michelle Rust and Terri Harfst, from Carbondale. Also, SIU was represented on the student panel in outstanding fashion by Courtney Kinnard, a senior at SIUC, and Dylan Stanley, a graduate student at SIUE.

In a time when there is heightened attention to stemming enrollment declines and getting more Illinois students to study at our public universities, this was an important opportunity to show that the state’s higher education institutions are responsive and willing to partner to help Illinois graduates to find the programs they want and achieve the success they deserve.

Faces of SIU

Audre Halford It takes a special kind of person to spend every day helping people who are going through some of the worst times of their lives. That’s just the kind of person Audre Halford, oncology nurse navigator for SIU School of Medicine’s Simmons Cancer Institute, is.

Day in and day out, Audre strives to eliminate any and all barriers to care that cancer patients may encounter. She arranges transportation so patients can get where they need to go for life-saving treatments. She helps uninsured or underinsured people apply for financial assistance, assures access to medication and durable medical equipment and provides education, support and counseling arrangements.

She handles Family Medical Leave Act and disability questions, arranges counseling, deals with outside referrals for chemotherapy and radiation and aids patients with the myriad pages of Medicaid, Medicare or other insurance paperwork their care entails. She also works closely with the Head and Neck Oncology Team regarding chemotherapy and radiation compliance, patient access to dental care prior to radiation and coordinating follow-up scans and appointments with surgeons following treatment.

It’s no small task to handle her patient load either. She’s currently providing general assistance and support on an ongoing basis to about 500 patients in addition to following more than 130 patients receiving treatment through head and neck oncology. And, she does it all with a level of personal attention, care and efficiency that makes her invaluable to all those she assists.

“I feel my job is to support our cancer patients in their most vulnerable times. It can be difficult to navigate the healthcare system and community support resources while dealing with the stress of a cancer diagnosis,” Audre said. “If I can alleviate some of that stress by leading a patient to the correct resources, the patient can focus on their treatment and recovery.”

The patients are what it’s all about for Audre and they’re what she likes most about her job.

“I enjoy interacting with patients on a personal level and tend to follow them for several years,” she said. “Patient navigation can go in many different directions; whether it is diagnosis, treatment or survivorship. I enjoy the flexibility I have which allows me to focus on good, quality patient care.”

Audre once considered becoming a veterinarian, even giving serious thought to enrolling in agriculture education after graduating high school. She also thought she might like meteorology. But, she realized that she really wanted to be a teacher, helping others learn in some form or fashion. Becoming a nurse fulfilled that dream in a unique way.

Audre, of Athens, Ill., earned her associate’s degree in nursing at Lincoln Land Community College and then became a registered nurse/oncology certified nurse through Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation. She has been an oncology nurse for 11 years and took on the role of oncology nurse navigator for SIU two years ago.

It’s a fulfilling position and it’s also a good fit, allowing her to balance her career and her busy home life, she said. That home life includes Rodney, her high-school sweetheart and husband of 10 years, along with their children: Ashley, eight; Callie, five; and Jerad, two. They spend as much time together as possible and enjoy reading, gardening and playing outside. They also appreciate living near extended family.

Through her patient navigator experience, Audre has been pleased to learn that the Springfield community offers “unique access to cancer care and resources that are hardly found anywhere else in the state.”

“I am proud to be part of an organization that makes access to healthcare a reality for those who otherwise have no support,” she added.

We’re proud to have you on our team, Audre, and appreciate all you do for your patients and SIU.

Other Voices in HIED

Washington Post:
Government watchdog blasts Education Department’s financial oversight of colleges.

The Atlantic:
How the Humanities Can Train Entrepreneurs.

The Atlantic:
The Rural Higher-Education Crisis

Who is a College Teacher, Anyway? Audit of Online University Raises Questions.

NPR Illinois:
Rose’s Higher Ed Plan Faces Thorny Battle