Eastern Illinois University President David Glassman delivered the news this week that any EIU supporter, alumni or watcher expected: Enrollment this fall is down significantly.
Student numbers fell, overall, more than 1,000: Total enrollment is 7,415 for the current semester, compared to 8,520 a year ago.
Although university press releases noted that graduate student and international student enrollments are up by good margins, there is no hiding from that disheartening drop in overall enrollment.
But Glassman has a plan. And he has the moral support and collective brainpower he needs to chart a stronger course for EIU.
As practically everyone knows, it's the Illinois budget impasse and failure to fund the university that has precipitated this decline. Uncertainty over the amount of funds coming from the state -- and when -- has thrown all of the state's public universities into uncharted waters. Others have reported significant drops in fall in enrollment, too -- so, as little comfort as it may be, Eastern is not alone.
This is Illinois now. This is reality now.
In his State of the University address on Wednesday, Glassman didn't take an extended amount of time to bemoan the inaction of politicians in Springfield that has so badly wounded EIU. He focused on a way forward.
The centerpiece of this plan is an effort called the "Vitalization Project." This comes after the university's Board of Trustees directed the university this summer to stringently assess current programs, both academic and non-academic, and report back in January.
The new project will “serve to advance EIU on its 'Pathway to Success' and guide our budget and planning decisions for future allocation of resources and strategic investments," according to university officials.
Work groups will guide this effort, scrutinizing existing university services and identifying changes likely to improve what EIU has to offer students.
Various people in the university community, volunteering on their own or suggested by peers, will make up these groups, and Glassman stressed that serving will be a time-consuming, demanding endeavor.
That's just what Eastern needs.
No one at the university or supporting the university can force state leaders to do the right thing and properly fund public colleges. But supporters, employees and other leaders can streamline Eastern's services and get the word out about the excellence that this institution continues to offer.
Illinois funding issues will continue. Vacant residence halls will stand, at least in the near future, as testaments to the challenges that Eastern faces -- most beyond its control. Unkempt portions of the grounds will remain stark reminders of the layoffs made in response to budget woes.
But the will of Eastern's leadership, faculty and staff, current students and community supporters is strong. Banding together to streamline Eastern's programs and continuing to build on its history of excellence is the proper course for the university now.
Glassman got it right.
"At last year's State of the University Address, I spoke to a critical need for EIU to be willing to change and adapt to the modern conditions and environment that exists for recruiting students today," he said Wednesday. "This year, together, we will demonstrate that willingness."
-- JG-TC Editorial Board