From the Dean: State Budget Impasse; Inaction is not an Option

ECE News

Andreas Cangellaris
3/25/2016 2:21:46 PM

Story Highlights

  • Faculty growth in Engineering has not kept pace with student growth, hurting student-to-faculty ratios and reducing the amount of research our faculty can do.
  • Lack of state budget complicates our finances and makes it difficult for us to invest and plan as well as we would like.
  • Applications to the college are up 75 percent in the last five years - well above the average of our peers.

Last week, University of Illinois President Tim Killeen spoke to a state Senate Appropriations Committee about the state budget impasse and its impact on the university. He told the committee: “It is not a question of shutting our doors. We won’t. It is a question of quality—maintaining the excellence that has made the U of I one of the premier university systems not just in the state and the nation, but in the world.”

In the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the quality of our programs has not diminished, and people recognize that. Applications to the college are up 75 percent in the last five years—well above the average of our peers.

The qualifications of the students applying have only improved. Our external research funding is vibrant, growing, and among the highest in the nation. Jobs, internships, and opportunities for our graduates are as abundant as ever.

Despite all this amazing work by our students, faculty, and alumni, President Killeen is correct. Engineering at Illinois is in a perilous position for two key reasons.

First, undergraduate enrollment has risen by 50 percent in less than 10 years. We have managed that growth judiciously. We take care to admit as many Illinois students as we have in previous decades and to attract to our state eminently qualified students from elsewhere in the nation and the world over.

This growth has helped our campus maintain its financial health as our state funding diminished, but it has come at a cost. Faculty growth in Engineering has not kept pace with student growth, hurting student-to-faculty ratios and reducing the amount of research our faculty can do and the number of graduate students they can bring on and advise toward a PhD degree. Also, we have not been able to keep up with our peers on state-of-the-art instructional facilities and research facilities renovations and upgrades in the last decade.

Second, we have been without a state budget for nine months. That complicates our finances and makes it difficult for us to invest and plan as well as we would like. Worse, it indicates that our state, and thus the premier program of its flagship university, is unable to aggressively pursue every opportunity for leadership, economic growth, and global impact.

Every time a peer, a potential partner, or an aspiring student sees a headline from the Associated Press or NPR about the state’s financial situation, they cannot help but wonder whether Engineering at Illinois is being hamstrung. They cannot help but acknowledge the fact that the headwinds we are battling challenge our ability to live up to our full potential.

Yes, the reputation of our program is influenced by what our peers see in the media. And yes, state support has been an important part of our success throughout our long history. But these are difficulties that we can and will overcome. We have the determination to improve our circumstances and the confidence to move aggressively, even in the face of a troubling financial outlook.

We are absolutely committed to protecting our quality, our reputation, and our impact, and are taking concrete action to do so. For example, we are:

  • Redoubling our efforts to grow the support we receive from our alumni and friends. Our endowment has grown by more than 60 percent in the last five years, and we will keep that momentum up.
  • Continuing to hire the very best faculty, so we can properly accommodate our current student population. We’ve grown our faculty by 10% over the last two years. These faculty are indispensable to our students, and their incredible research programs are integral to our College’s financial health.
  • Launching inventive new programs and investing in new spaces that will ensure that the very best students get the most out of their time at Illinois like the entrepreneurship hub in Grainger Library and the forthcoming engineering-based College of Medicine and the Illinois Design Center.
  • Growing new M.Eng degree programs and online programs that attract a new group of graduate students to Illinois and help us maintain our financial health.

We pride ourselves on our ability to do the impossible and to take on the challenges that no one else will. The world expects us to lead in engineering education and innovation. We will do so, even as the state budget process stymies our trajectory and our traditional budget model changes.

Inaction is not an option, and it is not in our nature.

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Andreas Cangellaris is dean of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s College of Engineering and the M.E. Van Valkenburg Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering.

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