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Peters: ‘Much work to do’ on NIU’s Vision 2020

DeKALB – Northern Illinois University’s Vision 2020 initiative has been under way for two years, and officials are happy with its progress in some areas, but President John Peters said Thursday “there is much work to do.”

The Board of Trustees heard an in-depth update Thursday on how much closer NIU officials have moved toward their Vision 2020 goals, which include transforming the curriculum, growing the honors program and increasing the enrollment to 30,000 students.

Peters announced the Vision 2020 strategic plan in September 2010 during his annual State of the University speech. The goal is to make NIU “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 higher number of students in the incoming freshman class were in both the top 10 percent and top 25 percent of their high school classes compared with the previous freshman class. They also had a higher mean grade-point average, 3.11, in high school.

Trustees said they were pleased with the progress overal.

Trustee Wheeler Coleman said student recruitment is one area where he has major concerns. He noted the University of Iowa and Iowa State University had student populations similar to NIU’s and were able to reach a 30,000-student goal in about five years.

NIU’s 2012 fall enrollment released earlier this month was 21,869, nine percent less than the 24,051 students that officials hoped to reach by this year.

“Somehow, Dr. Peters, we’ve got to sit back and say, ‘How do we get some more momentum in here?’ ” he said, noting that the 2.9 percent increase in this year’s freshman class is a good start.

When Coleman asked whether NIU had lowered its admission standards to meet that enrollment goal, Peters said NIU’s standards had been stable for several years, with the exception “that we’re attracting more top-end students.”

Trustee Marc Strauss said the number of students who want to attend a four-year university far exceeds the number NIU wants to attract. He said officials really need to concentrate on why students choose not to go to NIU, suggesting that students want better recreational facilities, more access to financial aid or a safer environment. He said NIU needs to work closely with the city of DeKalb to create a more welcoming environment for students.

When it comes down to retaining students, Student Trustee Elliot Echols said NIU needs to make sure students succeed not only academically but also socially. He said when students go away to school, they want plenty of dining, shopping and lodging options for themselves and their families when they visit.

“I think that plays a part in the academic success, as well,” he said.

Peters spent some time on how NIU hopes to grow its University Honors Program, which got a boost this year with 226 freshmen, the largest incoming class in 25 years. Since fall 2010, the honors program has grown from 861 students to 1,083 students.

NIU’s goal is to increase the number of students who graduate with honors by 50 percent in 2020. To help reach that goal, $38,400 has been committed from 2020 Grant Program funding to help develop the honors program.

Strauss said he didn’t want to diminish the work that’s been done to boost the honors program, but he said he doesn’t want the average student to fall by the wayside. He said it was difficult for him to comment on that because he hasn’t seen data on the average student population’s achievements and benchmarks.

Trustee Robert Boey agreed with Strauss.

“The honors program [growth] is certainly in the right direction,” he said. “I would not want to put that in the bank. I think we have to be careful how we juggle the balance.”

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