University News

New Initiatives at WIU

February 28, 2018

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MACOMB/MOLINE, IL -- Western Illinois University is moving ahead.

That was the message behind two public events held Feb. 27 at the University's Macomb and Quad Cities campuses. In June 2017, WIU President Jack Thomas shared the initiatives and goals of the President's Executive Institute (PEI) and the Strategic Plan Supplement for 2017-18, and the Feb 27 event provided updates on the PEI, which is led by Vice President for Quad Cities and Planning Joe Rives and Director of Business Engagement and Outreach Becky Paulsen, and the University's Strategic Plan. The complete live stream of the Feb. 27 press events can be found on the University's YouTube Channel and the WIU-Macomb and WIU-QC Facebook pages.

"The work and accomplishments we have shared are the result of new ways of thinking and the innovation occurring at WIU," Thomas noted. "In 2016, I started the President's Executive Institute as a means to think outside of the box and advance our great University. The call to action was made, and faculty and staff across both campuses responded."

At Tuesday's events, Rives discussed the development of the Higher Values in Higher Education Strategic Plan, led by the Social Responsibility Task Force.

"This nearly 50-member team has brought forward many of the innovations we outlined Tuesday and we will be working closely with the University community to prepare the next 10-year Strategic Plan for WIU," Rives added. "The first draft will be available through the February Strategic Plan Update. We look forward to working with our colleagues on moving this great University ahead."

The goals of the PEI, which align with the Strategic Plan, include stabilizing enrollment, supporting community and economic development through a variety of unique initiatives and engaging external organizations. The powerpoint, which outlines the PEI and Strategic Plan goals, presented by Rives at Tuesday's event can be found at and

"We will stabilize total University enrollment at 10,000 students and then we will continue to grow enrollment. It may seem counterintuitive to announce enrollment stabilization and growth goals when Illinois public higher education is dealing with issues related to reduced state funding, changing demographics, decreases in high school graduates and community college enrollments, out-of-state migration of college bound students, and increased competition," Thomas said. "However, either circumstances will define us, or we will define our circumstances. We have chosen the latter, and placed ourselves on the road to enrollment stabilization and increases."

As a result of the PEI and Strategic Plan, new programs and initiatives are underway to further enhance the University's outstanding academic opportunities, which Thomas announced at Tuesday's public events.

"As we place the WIU Centennial Honors College at the forefront of the University, I am pleased to announce that I have initiated a task force to study the relocation of the Honors College from the University Library to portions of the third floor of Simpkins Hall," Thomas explained. "For many years, there have been discussions of increasing accessibility and making essential renovations to enhance classrooms, labs and other spaces in this amazing historic building. The renovation of the top floors of Simpkins Hall will be beneficial to the students, faculty and staff of the Honors College, the building's primary department, the Department of English and Western's English as a Second Language program, which is housed on Simpkins' second floor. This is an excellent opportunity for a reinvestment and celebration of this great building."

The Honors College, led by Director Rick Hardy and Associate Director Erik Brooks, has increased its enrollment by 83 percent since Fall 2012. The college now serves nearly 1,000 students, and also has an active presence in the Quad Cities due to the program recruitment and service by Honors Adviser Michelle Aurand and Quad Cities faculty members.

"For decades, there has been extensive collaboration between the Honors College and the Department of English. This is a natural pairing of two outstanding programs that share a commitment to student mentorship, experiential learning and student success, as well as the advancement of students writing across the disciplines," Thomas added.

The proposed renovations -- funded by donations and funds restricted for permanent facilities improvements, which by law cannot be used for operating or salary expenses -- will include remodeling the loft area, which will result in a prime area for student activities, learning and culture, with special emphasis on faculty/student mentor relationships. University Architect Bill Brewer will lead the task force that will engage in facilities planning and cost estimating. A location will also be identified for the Honors College on the Quad Cities campus.

In addition to the Honors College relocation and renovation of Simpkins to accommodate the move, expanded access to Western's educational programs will occur both online and on campus. The Illinois Board of Higher Education recently approved WIU offering an undergraduate degree in Broadcasting and Journalism. Led by College of Fine Arts and Communication Dean Billy Clow and Department Chair Buzz Hoon, along with broadcasting and journalism faculty, the new educational opportunity demonstrates how Western provides forward-looking programs that help students fulfill their career and future educational aspirations.

"Broadcasting and journalism are longstanding degree programs of excellence at the University. Now, instead of having to choose between a degree in broadcasting or journalism, WIU students will be prepared for the mass communication profession, which gives them more options upon graduation," Thomas pointed out. "This was a significant curricular redesign to combine two areas of study into one degree program, and I wish to thank the faculty for the implementation of their vision to the benefit of the students that we serve. This innovation that will spur enrollment growth is the first of several announcements to be made. We have new programs under development and several existing programs are looking at campus expansion."

To assist students with the financial side of attending college – many of whom work while going to school -- the College of Business and Technology has launched the Learn and Earn Initiative, which is available to students on both campuses. Through this program, students will complete paid internships and other forms of experiential education and classes simultaneously.

"This negates the need for employment beyond the student's normal credit hour load, gives job related experiences and advances our mission to prepare students to lead in their communities," Thomas said.

Financial Aid, under the leadership of Vice President for Student Services Ron Williams and Director Terri Hare, are applying federal supplemental education opportunity grant funding to make up the difference between financial assistance and the direct costs of tuition, fees, room and board rates for students who have a financial need. The Student Cost Task Force, under Williams' direction, is also exploring additional ways to increase student access and affordability.

"Along with these efforts, Vice President Brad Bainter is working with the WIU Foundation and his colleagues in Advancement and Public Services to prepare the University for our next fundraising campaign. Similar to the last campaign, student scholarships will be a high priority," he added.

According to Thomas, this innovation that will spur enrollment growth is the first of several announcements to be made. The University's planning processes, and the commitment of Western's faculty and staff to students and host communities, show that WIU has a strong future ahead, Rives added.

"We have made great headway using the PEI and the Strategic Plan as our guide. We are moving Western Illinois University forward and we are making things happen," Thomas said. "What I have recently shared demonstrates that Western's traditions of excellence will continue."

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