By TOBY ECKERT
Turf battles for students:
A little-noticed battle is raging between Illinois' public and private universities. The dispute is over turf. Public institutions particularly Northern Illinois University in DeKalb have been aggressively moving into parts of Illinois that private universities consider their domain. The private schools fear the encroachments will undercut their efforts to fill their classrooms in a time of growing competition for students.
As in any war, both sides are claiming the moral high ground. Public university administrators say they are merely fulfilling their historic mission of providing accessible, low-cost higher education to Illinoisans. But private school administrators say their counterparts in the public sector are being greedy in an era when competition for students is keen.
The largest pool of potential college students in Illinois high school graduating classes has shrunk over the past decade, and that trend is expected to continue into the next century. A recent study by the Western Interstate Commission of Higher Education in Boulder, Colo., showed that the number of high school graduates in Illinois shrank by 16 percent between 1979 and 1990. It is expected to fall another 16 percent over the next three years.
Those demographic realities have encouraged universities to look for new markets. While public and private schools frequently fight amongst themselves over new programs, the most pitched battles are now occurring between public and private universities. The turf battles are occurring in regions of the state that the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) says are educationally underserved: Chicago's western suburbs and Rockford and Peoria. Those areas, according to the IBHE, have sizeable populations that don't have ready access to senior-level universities. Though they may be home to private universities, those institutions are either too expensive or too limited in scope to adequately serve the areas. Some of the state's public universities see those regions as natural markets for their programs. But the private schools insist they can be part of the solution too.
Caught in the middle is the IBHE, which is charged with seeing that the post-secondary educational needs of the state are met. Since the board is responsible for approving new programs undertaken by state universities while, at the same time, trying to avoid duplication of services, it has been thrown into the unenviable role of mediator in the turf wars. Some give the board high marks for its performance thus far, while others say its record is abysmal.
The biggest public-private battle is brewing in the so-called Illinois Research and Development Corridor that runs through DuPage County. The area is growing so rapidly that some have dubbed it the "Orange County of Illinois.'' Educators, both private and public, see a lucrative market in the employees of the county's myriad high-tech firms.
The largest pool of potential college students in Illinois high school graduating classes has shrunk over the past decade, and that trend is expected to continue . . .
The Illinois Institute of Technology, a private institution in Chicago, recently built a $15 million center in the suburban corridor and wants to protect its investment. But the University of Illinois and NIU want to build their own $30 million center in the area. IIT wasn't opposed to the NIU-UI effort initially when it looked as if the area would land the federal government's Superconducting Super Collider and become the nation's new research mecca. But when that project was lost to Texas, IIT officials say, the market for two high-tech campuses disappeared.
"We cannot afford to compete with another institution for a limited market," said Edwin Stueben, the IIT vice president in charge of the school's DuPage campus. "We're at risk." Stueben maintains that market studies show there will be 10,000 scientists and engineers employed in DuPage County by 1995, far fewer than there would be had the Superconducting Super Collider come to the area. Of those professionals, he says, only about 1,000 will be interested in pursuing advanced degrees or other training.
But the public schools cite their own market studies, which
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they say show a much higher demand than IIT can handle. NIU President John LaTourette says that any study of educational demand in the corridor must take account of neighboring Kane County as well. Based on the number of bachelor's degree holders in Kane and DuPage counties, LaTourette estimates that 30,000 people are interested in pursuing advanced degrees. In May, the IBHE rejected IIT's plea for another needs assessment and endorsed the NIU-UI proposal. The proposal has some powerful backers in the legislature, including Senate Minority Leader James "Pate" Phillip (R-23, Wood Dale) and House Minority Leader Lee A. Daniels (R-46, Elmhurst).
In September, NIU announced plans for a second major project in the suburbs, this time in Hoffman Estates. LaTourette said the university would build a $4-5 million campus to house graduate courses currently scattered throughout 34 locations in the northwest suburbs. The campus, approved by the IBHE in December, will be built next to the new Sears headquarters. Officials at Roosevelt University, a private school based in Chicago, are opposed to the plan. Roosevelt President Theodore Gross maintains that NIU will steal students and duplicate courses Roosevelt offers at its Arlington Heights campus.
Like IIT, Roosevelt wants to protect its investment in the suburbs. The school has been planning a major expansion of its Arlington Heights campus. Other private school officials have also balked at NlU's plans, including DePaul University President John Richardson, who conceded that DePaul too has been looking to the suburbs as a growth market.
LaTourette has said the concerns about competition in the suburbs are unfounded. "In my view, there is more than enough potential demand for all of us to be active in the area without being duplicative," he said. UI President Stanley O. Ikenberry agrees. "The issue really is whether the state is being served by high quality education programs," Ikenberry said. "Both private and public education are working to meet those needs.'' Roderick Groves, chancellor of the Board of Regents, which oversees NIU, says he's "extremely bullish on educational demand" in the suburbs. "Ever greater numbers of people are going to be seeking education."
The burgeoning suburbs aren't the only areas of the state that have been turned into academic battlegrounds. A feud simmered for nearly a year between NIU and private Rockford College before Gov. James R. Thompson asked the IBHE to step in.
Last year, NIU administrators went directly to the legislature and got $500,000 to start planning a base for its scattered graduate programs in the Rockford area. After an outcry from Rockford College administrators and the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities (FIICU), who said the appropriation had to be approved by the IBHE, Gov. Thompson removed the money from the budget. The legislature restored it, and Thompson told the Rockford Chamber of Commerce he would authorize the release of the money. A month later, however, the governor's staff asked the IBHE to take a look at the project. In August, the board signed off on the expenditure of the planning money, the first step in what is expected to be a $5-6 million project.
"We really weren't opposed to NIU moving into the area," said Rockford College spokeswoman Sue Cassidy, "but it does create competition for the same students." LaTourette insisted NIU wouldn't be taking any students away from the college "What we really perceive our role as is filling a gap'' in graduate education in the area. Yet he doesn't rule out the duplication of some master's programs already offered by Rockford College. "We've had a 25- to 30-year presence there," LaTourette said. "We started the program before they did. If there's any competition, they caused it. What they really need to do is reestablish themselves as a fine undergraduate instiution."
Don Fouts, president of the FIICU, warns that if the public schools' appetite for expansion is sated, it will ultimately cost taxpayers more than they bargained for "In the 1990s, when dollars are demonstrably more limited than in the 1960s, what is the best way to meet the needs of the state? The state has all the potential vendors public and private do the job, so the question is which vendor should be tapped," Fouts said. "Just as a matter of economic interest, the state should start to look outside, to the private schools. The concern should be the quality of the final product, the quality of that education for the amount of state dollars."
The FIICU's Fouts expects many other public-private turf battles to spring up around the state. Northeastern Illinois University . . . may be the next. . . to branch out
A report released in July by the Denver-based Education Commission of the States reaches much the same conclusion. The nonpartisan organization of state legislators and educators proposed a number of state government initiatives designed to keep private schools viable in an era of soaring tuitions. The report estimated that if private colleges and universities did not exist, it would cost the public an extra $12 billion a year to educate the 2.6 million students who opt for private education. The commission suggested that states provide more money for student-aid programs at private schools and consider paying private schools to offer certain academic programs, thus averting the proliferation of branch campuses of public universities in underserved areas.
Public school advocates have mixed feelings about the commission's report. "In some ways it was on the mark," said Richard Novak, assistant director for government relations at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. "In other ways it was off the mark." Novak took issue with the report's conclusion that building public satellite campuses in underserved areas is inefficient. "I think it's cheaper than
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putting money into private education," he said.
Last summer, in trying to head off an emerging turf clash in the Peoria area, the IBHE signaled its willingness to try innovative approaches to meeting the needs of underserved areas, without resorting to branch campuses. In July, the board approved a tuition subsidy plan for certain students at Peoria's private Bradley University. The IBHE agreed to subsidize the tuition of "place-bound'' undergraduate students who want to pursue a college education but can't leave the area because of jobs and family responsibilities or afford Bradley's high tuition. The $360,000 annual subsidy allows Bradley to lower the tuition for such students to the same amount they would pay at a state school, about $2,400 per year, compared to Bradley's normal $8,500 annual tuition.
Public university officials urged the IBHE to reject Bradley's proposal, which was hastily put together after a citizens group was formed to lobby the IBHE for a public academic center in Peoria. Groves was one of the most vocal critics of the proposal. "Public schools should be given a chance to bid for the same kind of service in the Peoria area," he told the IBHE.
Other public school administrators said Bradley's plan raised fundamental questions about how far the state should go in subsidizing private schools. They suggested that if the program were approved, other private institutions would get in line for their handout. But most IBHE members felt they weren't setting a dangerous precedent. Board member Rey Brune spoke for the board's majority when he said, "I don't believe we are making a great policy decision that will open up the gates. Chicken Little was wrong. The sky is not falling." But to calm the public schools' concerns, the board designated the subsidy a pilot program and put a three-year ban on similar requests from other private schools.
Whether the IBHE helped avert a turf battle in the Peoria area is an open question. Shortly before the board's vote on the Bradley proposal, two Board of Regents universities, Sangamon State (Springfield) and Illinois State (Bloomington-Normal), announced plans to bring more public education to the Peoria area. SSU wanted to expand its course offerings on the campus of Illinois Central College, the community college in East Peoria, where SSU has offered three bachelor's degrees since 1975. ISU also planned to start offering classes in the Peoria area. After the board approved the tuition subsidy proposal, ISU retreated. But ISU President Thomas Wallace said in August that the university was still interested in moving into Peoria. Bradley administrators agreed last fall to let SSU hold its classes on the Bradley campus.
ISU's Wallace notes that the tuition subsidies are limited to a narrow class of students in only a handful of undergraduate programs that Bradley administrators predict will be most in demand. "I don't think the Bradley proposal really answers the question," he said. "We have to work out a way for residents of the Peoria area to have broader access to a public university.''
The FIICU's Fouts expects many other public-private turf battles to spring up around the state. Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago may be the next public school to branch out, he said. Northeastern was one of six colleges that recently commissioned a study of academic needs in Chicago's northwest suburbs. Fouts says it is in everyone's interest to end the turf battles. Toward that end, the IBHE needs to do a better job of mediating the disputes, he said.
Despite the IBHE's efforts to settle the public-private disputes, the situation, particularly in the suburbs, remains unsettled. The board appears to be lurching from one controversy to the next, without any clear idea of how the needs of educationally underserved areas should be met or how public private school disputes can be resolved.
Novak of the AASU said several other states confronted with academic turf wars have set up councils of public and private university administrators who "try to argue things out among themselves before they go to the legislatures." The councils have had mixed results, Novak said. Pennsylvania's seems to be successful. But New York's "doesn't seem to tone down the debate," he said.
Groves prefers a more laissez-faire approach. Public and private schools should inform each other of their plans for expansion, he said, but "then I'd stand back and say, 'We know we've got a lot of need here. Let's see how the market works it out.' "
"We certainly don't need more regulation in the state of Illinois than we already have," said Ikenberry. "We may need improved communication, improved planning in some areas. I think we need a better long-range plan for higher education in Illinois and some part of the plan should focus on that [public-private competition] issue."
IBHE Executive Director Richard Wagner said the board will continue to try to act as a mediating body. The same day it approved the tuition subsidy for Bradley, the board directed the Central Illinois Consortium for Economic Development which includes Bradley, ISU, SSU and Illinois Central College to study the demand for undergraduate and graduate education in the Peoria area. The board also hopes to establish a new procedure for studying educational needs throughout the state, Wagner said. "We will continue to try to encourage open discussion," he added.
In coming months, the General Assembly may take a greater role in the discussion. During the November veto session, state Sens. Virginia Macdonald (R-72, Arlington Heights) and Howard Carroll (D-l, Chicago) introduced a resolution that would put a 14-month moratorium on off-campus expansions by public universities. The resolution also would establish a task force charged with creating a plan to "address unmet needs in the state . . . that makes the most efficient use of all higher educational resources." The resolution didn't go anywhere in November but may come up in the spring session.
Some conflict is inevitable in a state with such a large number of public and private universities, Wagner said. "Illinois has chosen to establish a highly decentralized system of higher education. Frankly, I think that's one of the strengths of the state: the diversity of institutions of higher learning there is to serve the state. Occasionally, when you're dealing with underserved areas, there are conflicts. It's a system that promotes competition.
Toby Eckert is Statehouse correspondent for the Peoria Journal Star. Prior to that he was the Journal Star's higher education reporter.
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