UI selects 17 projects to share $11M in 'investment for growth' funds

UI selects 17 projects to share $11M in 'investment for growth' funds

URBANA — A state-of-the-art engineering teaching center and a partnership that will allow high school students in China to take University of Illinois courses online are among the first 17 "investment for growth" projects funded at the UI campus.

Colleges and other academic units pooled $11 million to underwrite projects designed to boost income and enhance the UI's academic mission, as a way to help absorb state-funding cutbacks.

"We can't just cut our way out of these things," said Paul Ellinger, associate chancellor and vice provost for budget and resource planning.

The campus has to use multiple strategies — reducing costs, reorganizing operations to improve efficiency, cutting programs that aren't working and investing in new ones, he said.

Each college and campus research institute was asked to contribute a small chunk of its budget to a central pool of money — ranging from 0.9 percent to 3.5 percent for larger colleges.

The units were then invited to submit proposals for seed money to fund new revenue-generating activities, expand existing projects, invest in automation or reorganization, or help pay for new instructional facilities and projects.

The 17 ideas chosen, out of 39 proposals, were funded for one to three years and will receive anywhere from $220,000 to $7.5 million over that span. About $5.5 million will be available for the second round of proposals, which are being evaluated now, Ellinger said.

This year's winners — some of them joint projects involving several colleges — include six from the College of Engineering, five from the Gies College of Business, three from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, three from the School of Information Sciences, and one each from the College of Education, College of Media, College of Applied Health Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities and National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

They range from new buildings to online courses to lucrative professional degree programs and industry partnerships.

"It isn't just to make money," Ellinger said. "That was kind of the theme behind it. But it's also things we should be doing."

Overseas initiative

Some of the projects were already up and running, such as the online "iMBA" program launched in 2016 and the "CS+X" program, a combined degree in computer science and other disciplines designed to accommodate burgeoning demand for computer science degrees. The idea is to expand programs that show promise, he said.

Among the new ideas are two from engineering:

— An instructional building to accommodate a 10 to 15 percent enrollment increase over the next decade. It would include spaces to teach classes in-person or online — possibly with multicasting to other sites and an auditorium for "TED Talk-like experiences" — allowing departments to convert obsolete classrooms into research and laboratory spaces to attract new faculty, said spokesman Bill Bell. The funding will cover planning for the project.

— A Center for Professional and Executive Training and Education. It would allow the college to offer professionally oriented graduate degree programs that are in demand; training in technology innovation, management and entrepreneurship; internships and capstone projects in the Chicago area for students; and technical expertise in cybersecurity, risk management and data analytics.

One of the LAS projects is a new International Partner High School Program. The college will work with companies overseas — a vendor is already lined up in Hong Kong — to provide online general education courses for high school students.

Students will be able to earn college credit that could be transferred to an American university — ideally the UI — and get accustomed to online coursework in English, said Professor Randy McCarthy, who coordinates the college's online programs.

The courses will be similar to "MOOCs" offered by the UI through Coursera, which allow students to take online courses at a reduced cost but also earn credit if they want to pay a higher fee. But MOOCs are designed for thousands of students, and Coursera keeps half the revenue, he said.

The LAS program will be smaller — 250 to 300 students total — and offer more support from high school mentors in those countries who will be trained by UI faculty, he said. Exams will be created and graded by UI instructors.

Initial courses will be offered in biology, psychology, economics and atmospheric sciences. Four or five private high schools in China are already interested.

The courses will not count toward high school credit, unlike dual-enrollment courses offered by Illinois community colleges.

The international courses will cost $350 to $400 per credit hour, or $1,200 for a three-hour class. The college could net $750 to $800 per student for each course, or approximately $200,000 annually, though the program will require a $100,000 investment up front, he said.

But profit isn't the primary motive, McCarthy said. He sees the program as a recruiting tool.

"The international market has gotten a little soft," he said.

'Grow the pie'

Income from the "investment for growth" projects will be shared by the unit and the central campus, Ellinger said.

There was some concern from colleges about pooling resources for a program that might only benefit some units, he said. But now that the first round of proposals has been awarded, "for the most part, I think people are really excited."

He said administrators tried to make the process transparent, with deans and the Campus Budget Oversight Committee reviewing all proposals.

They were judged on their potential to reduce reliance on state support; become financially self-supporting; address the campus mission and areas of high demand; build "synergies" with other parts of campus; and minimize competition or redundancy among units.

"This is supposed to grow the pie, not take resources from one college and move them to another," Ellinger said.

"Obviously, at the end of the day, some units benefited more than others. But I think the leadership is really committed to improving the overall university," he said.