NIU President John Peters today announced the creation of the Vision 2020 Initiative to guide the university through what he expects to be an era of tremendous change and uncertainty for American higher education.
“I think it is fair to say that the number of changes confronting us, and the magnitude and speed of those changes, is perhaps greater than at any other time in the past 50 years,” he told faculty, staff and students in his 11th State of the University Address. “In terms of student success and fiscal sustainability, the public university model of the 20th century no longer fits.”
The Vision 2020 Initiative, which Peters will chair, will create and implement a new vision for NIU: becoming the most student-centered public research university in the Midwest, and establishing strategic goals for the coming decade in areas of student, faculty and facility excellence.
A Vision 2020 Committee, drawn from across the campus, will set ambitious benchmark goals for such areas as graduation and student-retention rates; optimal university enrollment, in both size and composition; and the percentage of incoming students ranking near the top of their high school classes.
“Setting goals is just the beginning,” Peters said. “The committee will also be charged with developing strategies to reach those goals and identifying funding sources to meet our objectives. Our goals will be ambitious, and the benchmarks to which we hold ourselves will require us to stretch.”
Among the areas to be addressed by the plan are:
- Academic Excellence — the committee will set goals for improving student performance with an emphasis on enhancing the rigor of academic standards. A cornerstone of that effort will be expanding and building upon NIU’s historical excellence in providing students with hands-on learning through experience such as internships, study abroad opportunities and undergraduate research. The group will also devise strategies to attract more high performing students to NIU and expand the size and scope of the honors program.
- Fiscal Sustainability — the university will set goals for increased fundraising and targets for attracting more government and private grant funding. Peters noted that True North, NIU’s first-ever comprehensive capital campaign, demonstrated that alumni have the wherewithal and motivation to give. Private gifts to NIU jumped from a total of $36 million in the 1990s to $162.4 million through the True North campaign this past decade. Increasing success in this area is crucial, Peters said. “The past decade has demonstrated that we can no longer rely on state funding as a stable and major funding source for our basic academic mission. It should be apparent to all that we must control our own destiny.”
- Campus Improvements — one key to attracting and retaining students, according to Peters, is the revitalization of the flagship campus in DeKalb. He outlined plans for a “residential renaissance” that calls for replacing or remodeling one-third of the university’s residence hall rooms by the fall of 2012. Those plans call for construction of a new privately financed housing complex of 1,000 beds, significant remodeling of the Grant Towers complex and the reopening of Gilbert Hall as a student residence. Accompanying enhancements include improvements to campus parking, updates to the Holmes Student Center and construction of a new outdoor intramural sports complex. A proposal to fund those projects (other than the new, privately funded hall) using Build America Bonds will be presented to the NIU Board of Trustees later this month. The bonds would save the university millions of dollars in interest.
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The new Vision 2020 Committee, which will be established by Thanksgiving, will issue its first report identifying strategic institutional goals by the end of the academic year. The committee will also be charged with tracking progress toward institutional goals and reporting back with annual updates to the university community. The success of the initiative is crucial, Peters emphasized, given the changing landscape of higher education.
Peters concluded by asking the entire university community to embrace the Vision 2020 Initiative.
“The Vision 2020 Initiative will take us on a journey that will define our institution for decades to come,” he said. “It will require all of us to join together, to work together, to move forward together…to help this great institution emerge even stronger in the years ahead.”