How students apply and are accepted and awarded financial aid at the University of Illinois could change in the coming years, after a comprehensive review commissioned by President Michael Hogan.
It is not clear yet what specific changes will be adopted, but faculty across all three campuses have been busy reviewing a detailed report with almost two dozen recommendations prepared for Hogan by outside consultants. So far not everyone has endorsed the plan.
One action does seem likely: the hiring of a university administrator who would oversee any changes to come.
Earlier this year, Hogan asked two enrollment administrators from outside the UI — Lee Melvin, with whom Hogan worked at the University of Connecticut and who is now at Cornell University, and Kedra Ishop, an admissions administrator at the University of Texas at Austin — to review and report on how all three campuses handle what's called enrollment management. That includes recruiting and building a freshman class, developing financial aid packages and the transferring of students from one college or campus to another.
Admissions, or enrollment management, is a highly competitive area and the university has not been approaching it as a competitive field, Hogan said. As a result, the university has not been competing successfully, he said.
The extensive report outlines 21 recommendations for the university. And in the board's performance goals outlined for Hogan for this year, trustees directed Hogan to charge the new enrollment administrator to implement the recommendations from the external reviewers.
The report "essentially establishes a road map for the executive director of enrollment management," Hogan said. He said he intends to launch the search for that position early next year.
Recommendations range from the broad, such as each campus should establish strategic enrollment goals, to the specific, such as the university should join the common application consortium, which allows students to fill out one standard application and send it to any of the participating schools.
Other recommendations include developing diversity recruitment plans for undergraduate majors and increasing enrollment of underrepresented groups and adopting a centralized admissions and financial aid processing system. The report also discusses marketing and communications strategies and includes a recommendation to "capitalize on the university's brand in communications to prospective students to emphasize the university as a whole, while retaining strong messages of campus identity. It also recommended making it easier for UIC students to transfer to the Urbana campus or Springfield campus students to transfer to UIC or Urbana, or vice versa.
"It's too early to tell if all the (report's) recommendations will be implemented, but the clear message in the report is that we need much better coordination across our campuses when it comes to enrollment management and that will be the executive director's job," Hogan said.
The authors of the report did not respond to requests for interviews. Each was paid $2,800 for the work, which is considered completed, according to UI spokesman Tom Hardy. Melvin and Ishop visited campuses for a few days, interviewed individuals who worked in this area and gathered data for the report.
The final report was submitted in August and has been shared with the University Senates Conference, which is made up of leaders of the faculty-student senates from each of the three UI campuses.
UI-Chicago professor Don Chambers, who chairs the senates conference, organized a committee — two people from each campus — to study and provide a response to the report.
"We agreed with the president to do everything we could to get this report out ... by the end of this semester," Chambers said. Committee members "want to do their job thoroughly. They recognize this is an important issue for the university," he said, declining to react specifically to the report ahead of the committee's own response.
Some professors, in senate meetings and most recently at Urbana's annual meeting of the faculty, have raised questions about the report and its recommendations. Some said Hogan should have tapped into the university's own experts in higher education and admissions for the review. Others suggested admissions work is best handled at the campus level, not on the university level.
"Students don't apply to the 'University of Illinois' as an overall entity, and there is no such thing as a 'University of Illinois degree,'" said Nicholas Burbules, a UI at Urbana-Champaign professor and chair of the senate's university policy committee. "These are campus matters, and the campuses, student populations, admissions standards, and missions are fundamentally different," he said.
Burbules also said the president's efforts to "'brand' the University of Illinois as a whole neglects the fundamental fact that the prestige of the overall institution derives from the prestige of this campus, not vice versa. Because Urbana is the shining light in this institution, the only way to make the overall whole more visible is by suppressing this brighter light — and we can't allow that to happen," he said.
"I understand that faculty have a stake in the preparation of the students we admit and in our curricula. That won't change," Hogan said.
In his last meeting with the senates conference, Hogan said members indicated that some areas in the report's recommendations, such as establishing a common application and setting enrollment goals, seemed like good ideas and wouldn't require waiting until the end of the semester for the faculty's formal assessment.
As a result, Hogan said he plans to assemble a working group of enrollment management staff from all campuses to begin work in those areas.
Chambers said the role of the campus senates and senates conference is to advise the president on such academic matters, including ones as major as enrollment.
It's not clear yet whether the senates or the senates conference will take action, such as a vote on the committee's findings. And any vote would be advisory. Ultimately, the authority to hire an executive director for enrollment management will rest with the board of trustees.
"We are doing things in an expeditious way. We are not trying to filibuster or delay," Chambers said.
This story appeared in print on Nov. 13.