IBJ: You’ve been here almost three years now. What’s been the biggest challenge for you?
Furst-Bowe: Definitely the state budget situation. We’ve been in this cash flow situation for years, where the state is behind in its payments to us. We really have to manage our money very carefully. Every year I’ve been here there has been a reduction in the amount of money. Next fiscal year, which starts in July, I’m looking at a 10 to 20 percent further reduction because the state’s in such a deficit.
IBJ: What are the actual dollar figures involved?
Furst-Bowe (defers to budget director Bill Winter). Winter: If we get the cuts, we’re looking at anywhere from a $5.8 million to a $12.9 million loss. State appropriation is a subsidy from the state to keep the cost of tuition down. The highest level of funding was in Fiscal Year 2002, when the appropriation was $73 million. Now, our state appropriation is around $59.9 million. That’s about 18 percent lower than it was in that high year. And, because we now have about 20 percent more students than we had at that time, the amount per student has gone down. In 2002, it was about $7,500 per student; now it’s down to almost $5,000.
To give some historical perspective, we’ve had two waves of cuts. The first was around ‘03-’04; that was post 9/11. We were cut around $10 million. Then after the recession, starting in around FY ‘12-’13, we had another $10 million in cuts. When the state’s economy has been challenged that’s when we’ve had funding issues.
IBJ: And yet you’ve still been able to put up new buildings. You’ve just built a new Science Building and now are refurbishing the former Science Building.
Furst-Bowe: That’s a state project and the funding was a long time coming.
Winter: It should be open in fall of ‘16, if the Capital Development Board makes all of its deadlines.
IBJ: I guess there are no other capital projects in the works?
Furst-Bowe: No. Obviously, every institution has its plan and we have to put in our priorities. But I don’t know how realistic it is given the state budget situation.
IBJ: What would be the priority if you had a massive windfall of cash?
Furst-Bowe: First is an allied health building. Our nursing program has grown. Our pharmacy program has grown.
And we definitely need a better performing arts center theater. We’ve got a small theater in Dunham Hall. Our arts program is very vibrant, with art, music, theater, dance, and all going very well. We definitely need a better venue for that.
We do have our list of capital priorities. We’ve been treated well in the past, but by the time they get back around to our campus again it might be a few years out.
IBJ: What’s on the horizon for the next several months? Things you want to see done?
Furst-Bowe: We’re working on lots of new initiatives. In fact, I just got a draft of a new strategic plan we’ve got to finalize. We’re moving forward with many degree programs, a lot of interdisciplinary programs, combining, you know, business and health sciences and others.
And we’re putting more programs and courses on line. This year we offered our first “January term.” It helps the students get in an extra class between semesters. We did it all on line and had several hundred students sign up and complete courses. (A January term is a shortened schedule of courses during a semester break.)
IBJ: Tell us about the Chinese student recruitment program you’ve been involved in.
Furst-Bowe: One of my first things was to see how we could attract more international students to SIUE. We had a low number, which was puzzling to me since we offer arts and sciences, business, health care and programs that international students are really interested in. China is one of the biggest markets now for international students. I have visited China numerous times, with our education dean, with our engineering dean, with other university representatives. We’ve signed agreements with several institutions in China. Most of them are for engineering or for the School of Education. The engineering thing is moving along very well. We’re getting quite a number of international students, not just from China, but places like India and Turkey, both for graduate and undergraduate engineering programs.
The School of Education though is a little bit different. What we have there, we have agreements with multiple universities to train their faculty. So we’ve got groups of Chinese faculty scholars that come over every fall. They sit in on classes, visit public schools in the area, and really get up to date on contemporary teaching and learning methods. They are here from August to January every year before they go back to China.
IBJ: It seems to be a dedicated effort.
Furst-Bowe: It’s been very intentional. Obviously they add a lot to the campus because of the diversity and the international perspective.
But also, you now have a lack of high school graduates throughout the Midwest. Every year, a smaller cohort is graduating from high school, and that’s going to continue for a long time. People are having smaller families. You have to make up the difference. If you have fewer 18-year-olds that you can bring in as freshmen, you’ve got to recruit transfer students, adult students and international students.
IBJ: You haven’t had any trouble with enrollment, though.
Furst-Bowe: No, our enrollment has been increasing because we’re doing well with transfer students and adults students and international students. You have to find ways to make your programs more attractive to a wider audience.
IBJ: SIUE long ago was a commuter campus before all the dormitories were built. Is that continuing to evolve?
Furst-Bowe: I don’t know right now that we would build more (dorms). There doesn’t seem to be a need to build more freshmen housing. We’ve had beautiful (private) student housing put up on both ends of the campus, and there is a third one now going up on (Illinois Route) 157.