ISU approves an equity-focused engineering college, new housing and higher tuition and fees
Illinois State University has formally approved creating a new College of Engineering.
The university’s board of trustees on Friday voted to spend $3 million to redesign two buildings to house the college in the short term.
The board also approved a new 1,200-bed student housing unit, along with higher tuition and fees during its quartering meeting.
President Terri Goss Kinzy said the new engineering college will have an "equity lens" to address demand for more electrical and mechanical engineers.
“Part of the reason we have a shortage in the country is we have very low representation of women, minoritized or underserved groups that go into engineering or they start in engineering and they don’t stay,” said Kinzy, adding the university’s approach will treat each engineering student as an engineer on day one. “We are not looking to weed people out. We want them to come in and start taking engineering courses from the beginning."
ISU’s food service building and physical plant, which will be renovated for the engineering college, will accommodate 520 students. The university projects up to 130 incoming students when the college opens in the Fall 2025 semester.
Construction is expected to cost $61 million.
Phase 2 would include a new building to house the college. Kinzy said the university has no timeline for that.
Student costs at ISU will go up more than 3% next year after trustees approved the increase on a 5-to-1 vote. That includes a 2.75% tuition increase for incoming students.
Board member Rocky Donahue asked when ISU last increased tuition and fees in the same year. The answer was 2016.
“It’s never easy to do and I don’t to speak for the entire board, but I believe everybody on this board is very cognizant of the cost of higher education,” Donahue said.
Robert Navarro cast the only "no" vote. “I’m still struggling with what that 3% will do,” Navarro asked as he participated remotely.
University officials said the increased tuition and fees will support rising costs across the board, including staffing, facilities, operations and programming.
The higher costs will put the average annual price tag for undergraduate students at $26,335.
The board also approved spending up to $8 million to design a new 1,200-bed residence hall and 700-seat dining center on the south campus where the Atkin-Colby and Hamilton-Whitten residence halls once stood. Those buildings were razed several years ago because it was too costly to maintain safety standards, ISU officials said.
Of ISU's sophomores, 22% don't live on campus as required because of a lack of beds. Vice President for Student Affairs Levester Johnson said that shortage has pushed more upperclassman off campus, too.
“Over the last number of years, we’ve had more and more juniors and seniors indicate they would love to live on campus, but we just don’t have the space for them,” Johnson told trustees.
Kinzy added the new housing also will help more transfer students live on campus. She said that's critical to their transition to a new school.
Kinzy said studies suggest underclassmen who live on campus perform better in school.
ISU predicts an enrollment rebound after two years of COVID-related declines.
Kinzy noted enrollment deposits for first-time college students are up 19% over last year, and deposits for graduate students are up 10%.
“We are so popular that we have actually had to stop deposits for first-year students,” Kinzy boasted to the board, adding deposits for transfer students have increased 3%.
Kinzy noted the university was pleased to see a 5% increase in state funding this year ($73.1 million), but noted state funding only covers 14% of the university’s operating expenses.
ISU also will receive an increase in funding for student need-based grants.
ISU has approved a new three-year agreement to provide free bus service to students, faculty and staff. The university will pay Connect Transit up to nearly $1.9 million through June 2025 to provide fixed-route service on campus, including the Redbird Express.
Trustee Kathryn Bohn expressed frustration the university's busing costs will go up after two years of COVID-related travel reductions.
“We did continue to fulfill our commitment, even though we had decreased ridership and now they’ve increased us another 3%. I think that’s just something that’s difficult to swallow at some points,” said Bohn, though the vote to approve the contract was unanimous.
University staff said the new contract builds in flexibility that could reduce the costs if ridership falls short of its target.
In other business, ISU trustees:
- Approved issuing $11.5 million in bonds for a new indoor athletics practice facility. ISU officials said they have secured $5 million in donations to have another $7 million in pledges so far to pay off the debt.
- Enacted a $4.35 million plan to upgrade the mechanical penthouse at Watterson Towers. The project was delayed by the pandemic, hiking the projected cost $150,000. The university plans to have the project done this summer.
- Voted to spend $1.25 million for the first of a three-phase plan to upgrade its campus-wide technology network. University officials said the current network is 10 years old and could lead to more frequent service interruptions if not replaced soon. Staff said the new network will boost bandwidth.
- OK'd a new master's of public health, a STEM master's of business administration and a master of science degree in marketing analytics.