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.
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.
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.
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.