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Chicago State University Forges Ahead Despite Financial Headwinds

The past year has not been an easy one for public universities and colleges in the state of Illinois. State legislators were locked in a stalemate over the 2016 fiscal year budget from July to April. As a result, public colleges and universities did not receive state appropriations during that period.


While all institutions were affected, Chicago State University, a public university situated in South Chicago, has felt the impact of funding issues particularly strongly.  Typically, CSU receives approximately a third of its annual funding in state appropriations, an amount that does not include state funding for the MAP (Monetary Award Program) grant funding. MAP grants go to tuition assistance for the state’s neediest students and are a crucial source of tuition-driven revenue dollars for many public institutions.


When Illinois doled out a $600 million package to universities and colleges in April, Chicago State received $20 million. That amount still fell short of what the university typically receives. As a result, layoff notices went out to 300 CSU administrators and staff shortly thereafter. As the budget difficulties look to potentially carry forward into 2017, the university is awaiting the coming fall with trepidation.


Although it is not technically an historically Black university, CSU serves a predominantly Black student population. In its 150 years of existence, it has produced many prominent Black leaders in Illinois and beyond. Janice Jackson, a Chicago State alum, was named chief of education for Chicago Public Schools in 2015, and Kanye West, although not technically a graduate, attended the school in the 1990s.


Even before the budget stalemate that began in 2015, Chicago State was in trouble. Graduation rates have never been high, and, recently, the Chicago Tribune reported that the six-year graduation rate for the first-year, full-time freshman cohort of 2009 was 11 percent. The institution was also beset with charges of financial mismanagement during the tenure of former President Wayne Watson.


Yet graduations numbers do not tell the full story, CSU faculty and administrators say. The majority of Chicago State students are Pell recipients, and, according to Sabrina Land, spokesperson for the university, two out of three students at Chicago State are transfer students. More than 70 percent are female, and the majority are over the age of 25 when they enroll.


In other words, many Chicago State students are what policymakers often call “non-traditional” college-going students. Chicago State provides a supportive environment situated in what is for many their home community, allowing them to maintain a job or care for family members while going to school.


“Most of our students depend on Chicago State because of its convenience, affordability and its excellence as an institution,” said Dr. Bernard Rowan, Associate Provost and professor of political science at Chicago State.


In addition, Chicago State has proved its success in producing minority and Black graduates in fields where they are often underrepresented. Land points to the strengths of the physics department and the College of Pharmacy as representative of good work happening across the university.


Chicago State’s College of Pharmacy has been in existence for five years and is currently 10th in the nation in terms of the enrollment of underrepresented minorities, according to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP).  Approximately 30 percent of the students at the college are Black.


“We are one of the relatively new programs on campus, but we have been making some pretty good strides,” said Dr. Carmita Coleman, dean of the College of Pharmacy. “Everyone who graduates from the program does very well in moving into the profession.”


Overall, graduates of the college have a 100 percent employment rate, Coleman said. The college also strives to provide students with a culturally competent curriculum that will allow them to work successfully with diverse communities upon entering the workforce.


“There is quite a bit of demand for pharmacists and particularly pharmacists of color. There is really an issue of health disparities across the spectrum of health care providers,” Coleman continued. “Particularly in African American and Latino health care professionals, we’re not seeing the graduation rates that we have across other ethnicities. So Chicago State is particularly poised to impact underrepresented minority representation in the health professions.”


Chicago State’s physics department, although small, is doing similar work in producing more minority graduates in fields where they are underrepresented. While the Chicago State student population as a whole is 90 percent Black, the physics department is more than 90 percent Black, said Dr. Edmundo Garcia, physics department chair.


The department graduated six students this year and has graduated an average of 4.5 students each year over the last five years. “Physics in general is a field that has fewer students. We are never going to get the numbers that biology or other fields get,” Garcia said. “So I think programs tend to be on the smaller side.” He said the department appears to be on an upward trend in terms of its graduation numbers.


 A 2015 report from the American Institute of Physics found that the number of Blacks in the physics field has remained flat, despite a 58 percent growth in the field overall. In addition, a database maintained by physicists Dr. Jami Valentine and Jessica Tucker underscores the dearth of Black female physicists in particular. Currently, 132 Black female scientists hold Ph.D.s in physics and related fields. By point of comparison, American universities awarded approximately 1,700 physics doctorates in 2013 alone.


As the university moves into the future, it will have to look for ways to adapt and evolve, Rowan said. Chicago State is currently leading a campaign to solicit financial support from its tens of thousands of alumni. The university is also in the process of reviewing its academic offerings and considering potential cuts or redesigns of what are known as “low-producing” programs.


“The programs here, all of them are wonderful,” Rowan said. “No one wants to let a program go.”

In Illinois, low-producing programs are defined as a major with fewer than 25 students that fails to graduate an average of six students over five years. According to an Illinois Board of Higher Education report out in October 2015, 12 CSU bachelor’s degree programs were low-producing, and six master’s programs were low producing. Rowan said that 12 to 15 departments are currently under review.


“The university will have to prioritize its programs and continue to look for its niche and how to formulate that and strengthen it,” Rowan said. “That could mean adding some newer programs, like an MBA, and it might mean shedding some older programs that may have been very high producing, or never very high producing, and the resources would be better utilized elsewhere.”


Catherine Morris can be reached at [email protected].

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