Fulfilling our mission through partnerships

Historically, public universities have received nearly 100 percent of their resources from state funds and tuition. Declines in state appropriations – more than 23 percent for SIU between the 2001 and 2018 fiscal years – have been offset over the years by increases in tuition and fees.

Clearly, this is a pattern that cannot continue. The future of SIU cannot rely on these two primary funding sources alone.

And while resources from our generous donors are critically important and make a very positive difference, their use is typically restricted to specific areas of the university that align with the interests of the donor. Private donations cannot fill the gaps made by declines in either state funding or tuition.

However, we have an alternative.

The value of partnerships

Strategic partnerships between SIU, industry and the economic development arms of our state and federal government can support academic programs and research to benefit faculty and students.

For example, partnerships with our incredible agricultural base have the potential to provide a capital investment in our farms in support of both teaching and research. There are similar opportunities in the STEM fields, the fine arts, health fields and many other areas.

Win-win-win

University/industry/government partnerships have many benefits.

Industry and government partners can help ensure that future employees are well prepared. Partners also welcome access to extraordinarily well-trained graduates. They may also want to be on the front end of new discoveries that will change how they operate or better serve constituents. The university benefits by attracting and deploying resources that support its mission, its community, its faculty and its students.

Everyone wins.

We’ve already started

Last week, I wrote about existing and future economic development partnerships, but there are many other examples already in place at SIU.

The Advanced Coal and Energy Research Center has received $4.6 million in funds from the energy sector to better use coal resources and transition to new energy sources in Illinois.  The “energy boost” grant provides faculty and facilities support for energy/industry research and also trains our students through scholarships.

The Center for Embedded Systems is one of our best examples of a government/industry/SIU partnership that translates to instant jobs for our students. In fact, Intel is one of our top employers.

Like Intel, many industry partners are looking for ways to grow a pipeline of well-prepared future employees.

For example, Navistar International Corp. donated nine commercial trucks to our automotive technology program, and Rush Enterprises, Inc., supported the partnership by providing licenses to software that allows students to configure and program truck body controllers.

Michael Behrmann, chair of automotive technology, discusses the benefits of donations by Navistar International Corp. and Rush Enterprises, Inc. to the program.

Similarly, the U.S. Navy donated a Gulfstream III airplane to our aviation technologies program.

Identifying strategic partners

Partnerships can provide an influx of resources that will allow us to thrive and grow. I believe that we have the potential to grow the number of industry and government partnerships significantly to benefit our students and faculty while preserving the integrity of our mission.

We need to be intentional about identifying partners whose interests align with our mission and programs. We have several conversations underway now. I encourage our faculty to identify and work with the university to explore partnership opportunities that will help move us forward.

I look forward to hearing your ideas.

Opportunity zone to support local economic development

Research Park on the SIU Campus

SIU remains attuned to ways we can support our regional and local economies. Being part of a newly designated “opportunity zone” will give us one more avenue to have a positive impact.

The new opportunity zone program is based on the Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The act allows individuals and organizations to receive tax benefits for making a long-term investment in job creation in designated “zones.”

Governor Rauner recently announced more than 325 zones across Illinois, and much of SIU, including the Research Park, is located within one of them. This designation will allow us to work with local businesses to attract and support investors to our area.

While the details related to the process for investing in and seeking investments for opportunity zones are still pending, this is promising news for SIU and our region.

Other examples

There are many, many other ways we support economic development as we fulfill our mission as a regional economic catalyst.

Our Small Business Development Center has a long history providing local business owners with the tools and guidance they need for success. The center also advises people interested in starting or expanding a business. Last year, the center advised more than 222 clients and helped entrepreneurs create 28 new businesses.

SIU is currently partnering with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to assist with strategic planning for the World Shooting Complex and Pyramid State Park.

And our long-term partnership with the non-profit IMEC helps small- to mid-sized manufacturers in Southern Illinois improve operations, processes and training.

These are just some of the examples of the ways we support economic growth in Southern Illinois.

Partnerships like these can make a tremendous positive difference for our community. In fact, partnerships are key to fulfilling our vision for the entire university. Stay tuned for more on this subject next week.

Mission accomplishing

“SIU embraces a unique tradition of access and opportunity, inclusive excellence, innovation in research and creativity, and outstanding teaching focused on nurturing student success. As a nationally ranked public research university and regional economic catalyst, we create and exchange knowledge to shape future leaders, improve our communities, and transform lives.”

SIU’s mission statement tells us a lot about where we have been, who we are and where we are going. It speaks to our commitment to access, our focus on innovation, and the quality of our faculty and the education we provide. It proudly declares our status as a national research university and our dedication to our region.

Telling our story

We have a lot of great stories to tell about how we are fulfilling our mission, from a forthcoming diversity plan to a new $2.2 million National Science Foundation grant to create master teachers in STEM fields (stay tuned for the announcements!) to the success of our students at SIU and as alumni. Over the course of the summer, I will use this blog to feature just a few of the stories showing how we are embodying each aspect of our mission statement. I also welcome hearing your own stories about how we are shaping future leaders, improving our communities and transforming lives.

I hope you are also telling the university’s story – and touting the many successes of our students and faculty – wherever you go. We have much to be proud of, and every person we can share our pride with will help us spread the good word even further.

A work in progress

It’s rewarding to know that our own constituents clearly supported our mission in the Vision 2025 survey conducted last fall. Their support gives me confidence that we have a shared vision for the university’s future and that we can indeed work together to achieve it.

Of course, we will never truly be done accomplishing our mission. It’s an ongoing process, and each of us must work every day, make every decision, and enter every conversation with our mission in mind. I pledge my commitment to doing so, and I welcome all you do to support our mission in word and in deed.