UI President discusses demographics

CHAMPAIGN – More out-of-state students and more international students will strengthen the University of Illinois and help spread the word about its quality, said UI President B. Joseph White.

He spoke and answered questions at noon Tuesday at the University YMCA, for its Know Your University lecture series.

One audience member expressed concerns about fewer spots at the UI for state residents. White said 90 percent of the undergraduate students at the Urbana campus are from Illinois, and the percentages at the other two campuses are even higher.

He said he expects the UI to admit more out-of-state students in the coming years, but "I would not expect a sea change in the proportion of resident and nonresident students. I do think there is some room for some increase in non-resident undergraduate students here in Urbana ... to strengthen the mix of students who are here."

White said students who decide not to come to the UI often cite the desire for a broader experience as the reason. He expects the percentage of resident to nonresident students to move from 90/10 to 85/15 over the next several years.

"I think, if that's the best thing to do to ensure quality, that's what we should do," he said.

He noted about 30 percent of the undergraduate students at the University of Michigan come from out of state, and that has contributed to its reputation as one of the country's top universities.

"The University of Illinois is at least as good as the University of Michigan, and in some respects is demonstrably better," he said. "(But) it has thousands of students from across the country who go there, leave and spread the word. I think it's hard to spread the word about the University of Illinois," when most students are from Illinois and stay here.

White also said the role of international exchanges will be "huge" for the future of the UI.

"Everybody wins when students and faculty spend time outside their home countries," he said.

The strategic plan for the Urbana campus calls for increasing the number of international students who come here.

"I feel really concerned with the way anti-terrorism measures are making it more difficult, and putting out a not-so-welcome sign for American universities. That's a big mistake," White said, adding that the education of foreign students at U.S. universities has had "absolutely enormous" benefits.

White addressed concerns about rising tuition rates as well. The strategic plan for the Urbana campus calls for raising tuition by about 10 percent per year for five years.

White said the increases will help pay for maintaining or rebuilding the quality of the UI – his No. 1 obligation. He noted the state and the UI both offer good financial aid to students, and he said one of the priorities for the UI's upcoming fundraising campaign will be raising money for scholarships.

But he said university officials should not apologize for asking parents to make a sacrifice to send their children to college.

"The single best thing they can do for their kids is provide them a good education," White said.

He is more optimistic about the UI's financial prospects, including state support, than he was six months or a year ago, White said. And he is optimistic about the future of the UI and its role in making the world better.

"Most of the problems we worried about 30 to 40 years ago – thermonuclear war, feeding the world – we've either solved them or we've coped in some acceptable way," he said. "For all the problems that concern us now – peace in the world, global warming, health care – I think the answers lie right here at the University of Illinois."

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