This morning’s first Chicago State University committee meeting had a pretty different tone compared to past meetings here that I’ve covered. No students heckling, booing and holding signs this time. And a striking amount of candor, both from the board and from school administrators.
The big oops: In 2006, the Higher Learning Commission, which accredits CSU, asked the school for a report on enrollment and retention issues after it raised concerns about the university’s slipping enrollment figures. It wasn’t happy with what it got, so it asked for another report earlier this year. And now the commission is coming to visit CSU this winter to find out what’s going on, Provost Sandra Westbrooks says.
Remember, this is the school whose six-year graduation rate is just 16 percent.
Site visits are a big deal in higher education, especially when they come halfway through a school’s 10-year accreditation term. If the commission doesn’t like what it sees, it can punish schools by making them get accreditation more frequently and by requiring regular reports in between.
Westbrooks says there are two specific issues of concern for the Higher Learning Commission as far as enrollment goes.
One is a lack of leadership in the enrollment office, which has had four directors in less than three years, Westbrooks acknowledges.
“A second concern was funding,” Westbrooks says. “Nowhere in the budget over the last six years has there been a dollar amount designated to support recruitment and marketing of the university and its programs. Not one dollar.”
The current budget, which is up for discussion at the next committee meeting, includes a total of $500,000 to boost enrollment efforts and to market CSU.
Despite those big flags, even critics of the board like Donald Pettis, the president of CSU's alumni association, are optimistic.
“I don’t think that there’s really a problem,” he says. “I think we’re on the right track to pull things together.”
(That meeting was supposed to start at 8:30 a.m., when the previous one was still going. Leon Finney, who chairs the second committee, had not arrived by 9:40 a.m.)
There are just five board members left, even though there should be eight (three seats are open and Gov. Pat Quinn has not appointed new trustees). This morning’s first committee meeting had with just two board members: Betsy Hill and student trustee Levon James.
“We are very short-handed on the board and that has certainly been an issue for us,” Hill said during a break between meetings. “I certainly hope the governor would turn his attention to some other universities (besides the University of Illinois).”
Bonus CSU oops for the day:
Students were clamoring last spring to get U-Passes so that they could take buses and trains to and from classes at reduced rates. They pointed out, correctly, that CSU is one of the only colleges in the city where students don’t have U-Passes. At the beginning of the summer, the board even passed a resolution to bring the U-Pass to campus.
Now the oops: CSU will have to wait another year before the passes go into effect.
“The contract was not submitted to CTA in order for students to have that in place for fall 2009,” Rosalyn Brown, the assistant provost for student affairs, told the CSU board this morning. “We learned later that for the spring semester, the contract would have been due Aug. 1.”