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State approves curricula for ISU's new College of Engineering

University officials are targeting the fall of 2025 for enrollment of the first engineering class of an estimated 130 students, rising to reach 520 students by the fourth year.
Eric Stock
WGLT file
University officials are targeting the fall of 2025 for enrollment of the first engineering class of an estimated 130 students, rising to 520 students by the fourth year.

Another checklist item has been cleared as Illinois State University prepares to open a new College of Engineering in the fall of 2025.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education recently approved ISU's proposed curricula for undergraduate degree programs in engineering, including electrical and mechanical degree programs.

The College of Engineering itself was given the IBHE's OK in March 2022, but founding dean Tom Keyser said the course offerings themselves required separate approval. Since that has now been received, ISU can begin marketing and recruitment efforts in earnest.

"A lot of it is just getting the word out. Admissions, when people would inquire, [would say], 'Yes it is our plan to do that.' They couldn't say it has been approved or a definitive, 'We will be doing this,'" Keyser said. "But now they can do that and that makes a difference."

That said, Keyser also said news of the forthcoming, equity-focused engineering school already has reached many prospective students and recruiters. The goal is to have between 120 and 150 students enrolled for the fall semester of 2025, a metric Keyser said university staff believes is feasible.

"One of the main things they kept telling me is that last year they had 6,000 people call ISU asking about engineering," Keyser said. "That surprises me a little bit — I mean, Illinois has... several programs around and it's so interesting that so many people are interested in engineering at ISU. It feels like everything is ready for success here."

Hiring for engineering faculty is currently underway. Keyser said the hope is to have three faculty members each in mechanical and electrical engineering hired about a year in advance. An associate dean for the college is expected to be hired this summer.

ISU's College of Engineering also will hire a director of inclusion, diversity and student success. Keyser said that's a direct byproduct of the college's touted commitment to recruiting — and retaining — a diverse student population.

ISU as a whole has already measured some successes in related efforts, which Keyser said the college hopes to build upon.

"I think over 57% or 58% of our students identify as female and around 40% of our incoming class are from underrepresented groups, so if we can recruit at those same levels for the College of Engineering, and hold those levels, it'll be incredible," he said.

Eventually, the college will be housed within the renovated John Green building that is set to open for that purpose in 2026. Construction and renovation on the former ISU food services building is currently underway; Keyser said the plan is to go out for bids sometime in the late spring.

Whether tuition will be higher for students enrolled in ISU's engineering program remains to be seen. In May 2023, the university's board of trustees took a first look at an amendment to its oversight guidelines that would allow them to set differing tuition rates for different programs. The proposal has not yet been brought up for a vote.

Other Illinois universities that have an increased tuition cost for students in engineering programs include Southern Illinois University, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Northern Illinois, among others. Keyser said the practice is common given the more expensive and involved equipment needs of engineering programs.

In a previous interview, interim president Aondover Tarhule said ISU has built in $500,000 of financial aid per year to support the equity goals of the forthcoming college.

Lyndsay Jones is a reporter at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021. You can reach her at lljone3@ilstu.edu.
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