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September 27, 2004


SPRINGFIELD - The Illinois Board of Higher Education will consider a resolution next week opposing a fledgling movement to permit community colleges to offer bachelor's degrees until a comprehensive study can answer questions of mission, funding, and other issues.

The Board meets Oct. 5 at the Illinois Institute of Technology and faces a hefty agenda that also includes action on changes to the higher education strategic plan, a resolution on web access for students with disabilities, and information reports on faculty salaries and distance learning.

A brief background paper for the Board notes that community colleges often are the primary or exclusive gateway to higher education for many students, and hence are increasingly being asked to offer access to baccalaureate programs. William Rainey Harper College has proposed changing state law to enable it to provide limited bachelor's degree programs.

Such a course would represent "a major philosophical and policy change in the way Illinois has chosen to meet its higher education needs," the report to the Board states. The resolution urges delay in changing the law governing community colleges until the impact on state and local funding, programmatic needs, and financial aid has been thoroughly evaluated.

In other action, Board members will act on a resolution encouraging public universities to improve Internet facilities and design to broaden access for students with disabilities. The effort, supported by the Board's Disabilities Advisory Committee, is aimed at developing "user-centered" designs for access to the World Wide Web that will allow users to meet their individual needs.

The resolution encourages public universities to identify the current state of their web accessibility, work together on a statewide support network and knowledge base, and develop by spring 2006 a plan for continuously upgrading web accessibility. It also urges the institutions to work toward implementing a common standard for web accessibility; to develop a web presence offering information about training initiatives, procurement guidelines, assessment tools, and effective practices; to support a statewide training initiative; and to foster institution collaboration through such communication techniques as chat rooms and listservs. Institutions will be required to report the status of WWW accessibility as part of the annual Underrepresented Groups Report to the Board of Higher Education.

Also on the Board's agenda is a report showing modest gains in faculty salaries over the past two years, although faculty remain basically where they were four years ago in comparison to peers across the nation.

In fiscal 2004, the average faculty salary at public universities was $66,600, an increase of 3.1 percent over FY2002. At community colleges, the average salary rose 2.5 percent to $56,800 during that time. At independent institutions, the average faculty salary was $79,300 in FY2004, an increase of 5.9 percent over fiscal 2002 salaries.

Salaries for Illinois public university faculty averaged 95.7 percent of salaries paid to peers across the nation in FY2004, up from 94.6 percent in fiscal 2003, but only marginally better than the 95.1 percent in FY2000, the year a state-supported faculty salary initiative began. That initiative ended in FY2003 when the state's fiscal crisis hit.

Board members will consider final recommendations for revision of The Illinois Commitment, the higher education strategic plan first adopted five years ago. The recommendations call for converting the plan into a more explicit policy framework with specific objectives to achieve state goals relating to affordability, economic development, access and diversity, program quality, partnerships with K-12 education, and productivity and accountability.

The Board will receive a report outlining the changed and changing landscape of higher education as a result of the proliferation of online and other distance learning endeavors. While vastly broadening access and student choice, the report says, the rise of so-called "client-based" education also raises issues of quality, regulation, and consumer protection. Concerns cited in the report include:

  • Some students, lacking understanding of the broad array of offerings, may make poor choices among legitimate institutions.
  • Traditional institutions will find it increasingly difficult to ensure that transferred courses meet their own academic standards.
  • Private, not-for-profit colleges and universities may view off-campus education as an "auxiliary enterprise" for support of on-campus operations, neglecting the quality and integrity of off-campus programs.
  • Some private for-profit schools may become so separated from the higher education mainstream that students will be unable to integrate educational experiences across different sectors.
  • Accrediting bodies will lose the ability to assure the quality and integrity of programs.
  • State regulators and accreditors will lose clear standards of common practice, rooted in academic tradition, that provide the present basis for rational oversight.

The report suggests the state increase the visibility of the Illinois Articulation Initiative transfer programs and the Illinois Virtual Campus, which provide clear pathways for students seeking to construct a degree program from building blocks of courses drawn from various institutions.

The report also suggests the state consider:

  • Rethinking the system of program review to make it more student-centered.
  • Developing a system of consumer education that will give students accurate information about the quality of institutions and programs.
  • Enacting consumer protection legislation with clear legal duties for institutions and clear legal rights for Illinois students.

Board members also will hear from four colleges and universities about "effective practices" in a wide range of endeavors. The reports come from the first annual Compendium of Institutional Effective Practices, part of performance reports each college and university now submits to the IBHE. The highlighted institutions are:

  • Eastern Illinois University will report on an energy conservation program that has improved productivity and has been recognized at state and national levels.
  • DeVry University will showcase its business programs senior project that gives graduating seniors a chance to use business, technical, and interpersonal skills in offering free consulting services to small and medium-sized businesses.
  • Robert Morris College will highlight internship options in applied bachelor and associate-degree programs emphasizing integration of theory, concepts, and applications.
  • Kishwaukee College will discuss its textbook loan program that helps relieve the burden of rising textbook costs for low-income students.

Don Sevener



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