Year-end academic performance successes shared with SIU board

December 11, 2020

Carbondale, Ill. – Top academic officers shared scholastic success stories at the Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees December meeting, focusing on student retention, college affordability, graduating students who can enter the high demand workforce and integrating the university’s research to meet the needs of the state and region.

Dr. Meera Komarraju, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at SIU Carbondale, Dr. Jerry Kruse, dean and provost at the SIU School of Medicine, and Dr. Denise Cobb, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at SIU Edwardsville, framed their presentations around the four main goals set by the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) in its 2008 Illinois Public Agenda for College and Career Success, which set goals related to providing an affordable college education that attracts and retains students to meet the needs of the workforce and support the Illinois economy.

The first goal focuses on student success measures that eliminate barriers created because of a student’s race, color, gender or disability. For both SIU campuses, this has been partially achieved through efforts aimed at increasing student success leading to graduation, which in recent years has occurred because of programs like summer success and revamped orientation programs helping first-year students transition to the academic and personal expectations of college life.

Cobb and Komarraju both highlighted efforts to support first-generation students and students of color through mentoring programs, tutoring and connecting students with other opportunities to help them succeed. “We know programs supporting first-generation students and students of color work. That’s why both campuses are investing more resources for them,” said SIU System Vice President for Academic Innovation, Planning and Partnerships Dr. Gireesh Gupchup.

“From the moment a student arrives on campus, our goal is to provide the support they need to be successful,” said SIUC Provost Meera Komarraju. “This report documents not only these efforts, but all the positive actions we’re taking to ensure our students have every resource at their fingertips to excel.”

Ensuring college affordability is the second goal of the Public Agenda. While the state has endured challenging budget years, both campuses have remained committed to access and affordability as shared by examples of not raising tuition last year and in years past, holding mandatory fees flat, instituting a national tuition rate to be competitive with universities in border states and working to maximize financial aid assistance. Currently, 88% of SIUC students and 89% of SIUE students receive some form of financial assistance, which includes need-based and merit-based support.

Also highlighted was the recently announced SIU System Commitment via the SIUE Cougar Commitment and SIUC Saluki Commitment, which will cover tuition and mandatory fees for freshman or first-time transfer students with an annual family income under $63,575. Beginning in fall 2021, both universities will cover remaining costs after a student’s state and federal financial aid (Pell Grant, MAP grant, Aim High) is exhausted.

“Even though the Illinois Public Agenda has existed for almost 20 years, the SIU campuses continue to take their charge to heart by finding new ways to promote college affordability, especially for those who need the most assistance by ensuring that students, regardless of where they come, can access the great learning opportunities we provide,” said SIU System President Dan Mahony.

Increasing the number of individuals with degrees or certifications to meet the demands of the economy is the third Public Agenda goal, from which both campuses reported success stories in job placement. At SIUC, the May 2020 class of the automotive technology program saw 89% of graduates accept a full-time job offer prior to graduation with starting salaries ranging between $50,000 and $75,000. In the aviation flight program, there was 100% job placement. In aviation technology, over 90% had immediate job placement. Graduates in radiologic sciences programs (radiography, radiation therapy, MRI, sonography, medical dosimetry) had job placement rates of 97-100% and certification pass rates of 85-97%. Salaries for medical dosimetry graduates ranged from $83,000 to $119,000, while radiation therapy salaries ranged from $60,000 to $73,000.

At SIUE, four new online degree completion options have been developed to meet the needs of the 400,000 Metro-east residents who have some college credits but no degree. Graduate enrollment in the School of Business jumped 106% with the launch of the online MBA program. The School of Pharmacy’s 2019 NAPLEX board pass rate was 95.83% – ranked in the top 20 nationally among 135 pharmacy schools. First-time exam takers in the School of Nursing Family Nurse Practitioners had a record-breaking rate of 100% success at the FNP-AANPCB exam, and the School of Dental Medicine had a record passing rate on their regional clinical licensing exam at 98.7%.

“It’s important to remember that the great accomplishments detailed in the performance report are not just those of our outstanding academic faculty and staff, but they also reflect on the work of those in divisions across the university beyond academic affairs who support our students’ incredible learning success,” said SIUE Provost Denise Cobb.

Different approaches were used to show how each campus is integrating Illinois’ educational, research and innovation assets to meet state economic needs, which is the fourth IBHE Public Agenda goal. Here, Provost Cobb highlighted FY 2019 results, which saw SIUE receive over $61 million in grants and contracts for research teaching, public service and student support initiatives. SIUE ranks first among all emerging research institutions in the Midwest for research expenditures, according to the National Science Foundation. She also noted the efficiency of the faculty and staff, which was reflected in the IBHE’s most recent cost study (FY 19), which showed SIUE produces credit hours at 80% of the average state weighted credit/hour cost. 

Provost Komarraju discussed the SIUC STEM Education Research Center with its mission to enhance STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) related knowledge for teachers and students through classroom and school visits. Other examples included workshops and professional development; mentorships with 120 teachers; the university’s support for the Illinois Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, which allows students to present original research; and the Teen Science Café, a regional monthly publication for teens and their teachers.

In his update from the SIU School of Medicine, Dean Jerry Kruse highlighted financial aid support, economic impact, as well as plans to increase the student population by 25% –  adding 200 more learners through 2023.

Citing studies showing medical school graduates with more than $190,000 in debt are less likely to go into lower paying fields, like primary care and psychiatry, Kruse discussed the goal of decreasing postgraduation debt for students below that level. “Providing scholarship assistance to every medical student with some form of debt last year was just a start,” Kruse noted. “We’re working to increase those dollars not just to help students graduate with less debt but to allow them to choose whatever area of specialty they want.”

Lastly, Kruse used data from the National Economic Impact of Physicians to illustrate the yearly impact of the 2,200 SIU-trained physicians and residents working in or near the SIU central and southern Illinois footprint, which totals roughly $7 billion –  including the creation of 36,000 jobs that support those individuals.

“These excellent performance reports provide a blueprint for this university to communicate how we are not only good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars but are always conscious of the need to make positive changes in areas like retention and engagement of students to ensure their success,” said Dr. Ed Hightower, vice chairman of the SIU Board of Trustees and chairman of the Academic Matters Committee.

“We’re in the most difficult period in our country since the Great Depression and World War II, and it’s because of education, and particularly higher education, that we’ll be able to be stronger on the other side,” said SIU Board of Trustees Chairman Phil Gilbert. “It’s this ‘outside the box thinking’ by our SIU campuses to provide an educational opportunity for everyone, including those who are now unemployed or who are struggling, that should make our communities within our SIU System 66-county footprint proud of our universities for the work they are doing.”

The presentations, along with the entire December 3 Board of Trustees meeting, can be viewed here.