CARBONDALE — SIU President Glenn Poshard gave his State of the University address Tuesday, covering challenges the university faces, the proposed university split and later apologized for the recent public scuffles.
The challenges included the prevention of students being left behind because of a state prosperity gap, building enrollment, keeping the university affordable and staying fiscally stable and building on the university’s community.
He said Illinois is two states: One is prosperous, mostly in the Chicago suburbs and the Metro East areas surrounding the Edwardsville campus, and the other is impoverished, with the southern part of the state being among the worst. He said the prosperity gap, based on income, ethnicity, race and region, is growing.
“Carbondale sits in the middle of the most eco-nomically depressed area in the state,” Poshard said.
He said the gap is unacceptable and the university has been a leader in providing opportunities to students from all walks of life.
“The mission of this university has always been to provide opportunity …” Poshard said.
Poshard also talked about keeping up with performance-based funding, saying that one of the first steps in improving student retention is getting advisement in order. He said that the university has begun that step.
He also apologized to the staff for the hardships they have faced because of state funding, with the university facing a $51 million annual decline since 2002. The state has only paid 21 percent of the fiscal year 2013 funds owed to the university.
He said the drop in students at the Carbondale campus is alarming but it is a pain felt by institu-tions throughout the state. The president said there are a number of factors leading to these drops, but said “we can’t make excuses. We’ve got to address this.”
Part of that is through marketing. He said there has been criticism about SIU spending money on marketing but said the Carbondale campus is only paying .5 percent of its budget on it, which he said is much lower than most places spend.
He said the tuition and fees at SIU are still the lowest in the state, with the average tuition increase in the state being at 7.4 percent and Carbondale at 6.4 percent. He said the average family in the region is still finding less and less ability to pay for higher education and that there are still many issues with Pell Grants and Monetary Assistance Program funds.
However, he said groups such as Moody’s and Bain & Company have both said the system is financially sound based on handling of fiscal responsibilities.
After the address Poshard took time to apologize for any “discredit” he brought to the university, referring to the recent argument with Trustee Roger Herrin about the Harrisburg trustee’s and Governor Pat Quinn’s handling of the Board of Trustees.
Poshard said he has a long history with the university and it is sometimes hard to be silent on issues he feels passionately about.
Questions from the crowd gathered at the speech included a request for an update on proposed legislation to split the Carbondale and Edwardsville campuses. He said the proposal comes from frustration from the Metro East about recent events.
“That’s as direct as I can be,” Poshard said.
He said he would continue to talk with legislators to stress the strength that comes from having a system and not separate campuses.