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WIU getting outside perspective on addressing challenges

Rich Egger

A consulting firm will help Western Illinois University as the school tackles enrollment and financial challenges.

The administration hired EAB Global, Inc. The contract signed on Oct. 30 will pay the firm $200,000 per year for three years.

In an email, TSPR asked the administration what it charged EAB with doing.

Paul Edwards, WIU Vice President for Finance and Administration, responded, “To provide strategic advisory services to include review of academic programming, online growth, information technology strategy, enrollment management, and advancement.”

Thoughts from the WIU board leaders

Board of Trustees Chairperson Carin Stutz credited the administration with avoiding a quick band-aid approach, and instead taking steps to ensure it makes the right long-term decisions for the institution.

“I think these consultants will bring in an unbiased, different look. Whether we agree with them or not, it’s going to give us another perspective to take a look at that will, I think, add more alternatives for us to consider to make the right long-term decisions for Western,” Stutz said.

She believes similar discussions are taking place at many universities.

During the board’s Dec. 5 meeting, Stutz said WIU cannot just cut its way out of its financial challenges. She told TSPR that Western needs to find new ways to bring in more students and more revenue.

Vice Chairperson Polly Radosh concurred. She said it’s neither innovative nor progressive to make cuts. She said WIU needs to examine what it does and how it does it, and then design something that takes the needs of the next generation into consideration.

Radosh said cuts are still possible, but pointed out the university made plenty of cuts from 2015 to 2018 and yet has still struggled.

“We cut 39 programs out of the university and we cut a lot of faculty positions, and where are we today? We still need to look at what we do and do it better. So cutting is not our answer,” Radosh said.

Stutz and Radosh emphasized that while the board does vote on some matters and helps set the university’s direction, it does not run the university’s daily operations. They said the university president, his cabinet, and faculty will need to come up with the right solutions.

But Stutz and Radosh also said the board will ask tough questions, and they believe an upcoming report from the consulting firm will prod them to ask a lot of them.

The board expects to see the report at its retreat in February. In the meantime, Stutz said the university is not sitting back and waiting for that report.

“There is a whole new sense of urgency here at Western,” Stutz said. “Everyone knows that it’s not one person’s problem. Everyone’s going to come together to find the right solutions and make Western successful for many generations to come.”

A bit more about EAB

According to EAB’s website, “We work with more than 2,500 institutions to drive change through data-driven solutions. From kindergarten to college to career, EAB partners with leaders and practitioners to accelerate progress and drive results across five major areas.”

Those areas are institutional strategy; marketing and enrollment; student success; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and data and analytics.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.