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CHAMPAIGN — With enrollment at the University of Illinois continuing to increase, Chancellor Robert Jones said Monday that faculty hiring needs to keep pace.

At a business luncheon at Papa Del’s in Champaign, Jones said the newest class of students is expected to be the UI’s largest. Official enrollment numbers will be released later this week.

“But what we have to be concerned about as a university is that we are growing and hiring the faculty to teach those students, because now we’re facing a situation where our faculty-student ratio is getting out of whack,” he said. “I don’t want you to expect a continuation of the kind of almost exponential growth and student enrollment. It will be smart growth.”

Ten years ago, there were 15.7 students for every faculty member, according to the UI. Last year, that figure was 17.8.

“We will be hiring more faculty to come to this university,” he said. “If I had the money, I would hire 500 new faculty in the next two years.”

He said enrollment will continue to increase, but said most of that will come from online students.

“There will not be exponential increases in enrollment of domestic students nor international students,” he said. “A major part of that growth is going to be online. You’ve probably heard about the executive MBA program, our MBA program that went completely online.”

Earlier this year, the Gies College of Business announced it would be phasing out its on-campus MBA programs. Jones said the growth over the next five, 10 and 20 years will come from entities like the Research Park and the Carle Illinois College of Medicine.

“We made a promise to double the size and to double the impact of the Research Park,” he said. “The Research Park is going to be one of the major ways you see our university grow.”

Under the Research Park’s new master plan, it would grow from about 800,000 square feet of space to about 2.3 million square feet.

As for the Carle Illinois College of Medicine, Jones said “that is going to define what this university and this community looks like in the decades ahead. ... It’s providing us an opportunity for us to think about the next level of innovation.” The Urbana medical school accepted its first class in 2018.

More than a hundred businesspeople attended Monday’s joint Champaign-Urbana business and development luncheon.