A group of area legislators as well as Urbana mayor Laurel Prussing, pressed the UI Board of Trustees Dec. 2 to keep the Police Training Institute open.
Prussing, flanked by state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, and state Reps. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, and Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said the institute provides a needed service to the state and is an economic benefit to the region.
PTI is slated for closure following a two-year review of UI programs, an effort that has led to tens of millions of dollars in annual savings. PTI was funded by the state but still cost the UI nearly $1 million annually.
And despite historic shortfalls in the state budget, the legislators said they were willing to make a push for funding in the spring legislative session to keep the institute operating from the Urbana campus.
"We realize you have a difficult decision to make," Frerichs told trustees. "We need time to work with the General Assembly and work out some of the issues so PTI can stay around."
He said an estimated $7 million would be needed to fund PTI.
"We are willing to work with the university to come up with a way (to keep it open)," added Jakobsson.
Rose said there is a possibility of raising the needed revenue by adding a statewide criminal-conviction fee.
He said PTI should be supported because it produces most of the state's academy-trained police officers, and provides an economic boost to the region.
Rose said he'd like to see the institute become a world-leader in training cybercrime and antiterrorist officers.
"It's a big deal, jobs-wise," he said. "It's an invaluable resource."
Board Chairman Christopher Kennedy said he is open to further discussion in an effort to "figure out a way," though neither he nor any other trustee made a commitment to change PTI's course.
President Michael J. Hogan thanked the area lawmakers for their recent support on a number of important issues facing the university.
Specifically, Hogan said he was pleased with action renewing funding for the Prairie Research Institute, which houses the state's scientific surveys.
Hogan said he also was thankful for restoration of the Monetary Award Program student aid money, cut by lawmakers over the summer, and for changes in state procurement rules that offer waivers to the university for entertainment, library and other special-case venues.
"Legislators stepped up," Hogan said of their support on university-related issues. "I wouldn't say it was everything we wanted, but it was 95 percent. We're extremely grateful for our friends in Springfield."
Walter Knorr, vice president and chief financial officer, said the receipt of state-owed funding was "substantially better" than last year. Last year at this time, the state was behind paying the UI nearly $400 million in funding. This year payments have been sent on a more timely basis and the total owed has been reduced by nearly $90 million.
Hogan told trustees that the university is working on a number of measures aimed at improving student recruitment and increasing financial aid levels.
"We don't have a big enough financial aid pot of funding," he said. "We will have some recommendations on how to improve. We need to up our game."
Despite a "big push" by university officials to increase supplemental aid from $14 million to $54 million in the last decade, more needs to be done, Hogan said. As it stands, less than 15 percent of the university's funds are earmarked for aid, a number he'd like to see increase.
Meanwhile, trustees on Dec. 2 discussed moving up the date in which the following year's tuition rate is announced.
Knorr said the UI had traditionally released the information in the spring, which he said was "fairly late in the game" and sometimes after new students had already been asked to make a commitment to attend the UI.
"We'd like to move it up to January because we'd like to give families time to plan," he said, noting the university also would benefit in recruitment and budgeting. "There's probably nothing we could do to be more helpful."
Last year, the board approved a policy that seeks to hold increases to the rate of inflation, addressing affordability while retaining the university's purchasing power. It also enables the board to set tuition earlier, giving students and their families adequate time to arrange college finances. Under the state's guaranteed tuition law, those rates are then locked in for four years to give students and families a realistic expectation of costs to attend the UI.
This year Knorr may announce the recommended tuition rate as early as the Jan. 18 board meeting in Chicago.
Hogan said cost-cutting conversations will continue to be initiated across all campuses as a method for freeing up finances. He said the Administrative Review and Restructuring process would continue into the next year, focusing on institutes, centers and doctoral programs.
"We'll be pinching our pennies and reallocating," he said.
Kennedy said he'd like to see more emphasis on helping lower-income families afford a UI education.
"We need to find a way to address that population," he said.
A new "dashboard indicators" report developed this year is expected to help administrators and trustees target a multitude of improvement categories, including tuition, financial aid, student access and student outcomes.
Delivered every six months, the report will be used to make statistical comparisons to other universities and help officials track specific institutional goals.
"Now we have a way of systematically updating that data," said Avijit Ghosh, a a special assistant to the president. "There are a variety of different metrics and a variety of information. It allows us to look at how we're performing on those priorities. We can look at those trends and take corrective action."
Information in the dashboard report already has been used to compile and assess enrollment data, he said.
Hogan said efforts also are being made to better tune comparative data to best represent each of the UI's three campuses. In addition to peer comparisons, the university also would develop an "aspiration" group of institutions.
"The hardest one (for finding comparisons) has always been our Chicago campus," he said, because of its size and the medical center.
Officials reported participation in the university's Minority and Female Business Enterprise program had significantly improved and could improve further without costing more money.
As it stands, last year about 10 percent of the university's expenditures went to MAFBE-participating firms, representing an increase of $11 million and a total of nearly $32 million. Last year the number of MAFBE firms rose 24 percent on the Urbana campus and 75 percent at UIC.
The Bronner Group is the university's MAFBE consultant and is recommending it follow a second phase of advice to increase participation. The second phase includes adopting a vendor policy and strategies to better attract diverse vendors.
Trustee Timothy Koritz said he valued diversity but worried about the university's financial situation.
"These costs are basically being paid with tuition dollars," he said.
Gila Bronner, the company's president, said the university also would benefit from changes in the state's hard-to-follow procurement law.
She said the university can achieve diversity goals without spending more money.
"I think it's more a message from the top," she said. "I don't think it has to be a greater cost, but it does have to be a strong commitment."
Kennedy said he is hopeful the university's recent success in seeking relief from the state's procurement legislation could carry over to other unfunded mandates.
"Let's learn from that experience," he said. "We can play a leadership role. If we confront (unfunded mandates), maybe others will join us."
Kennedy said, despite associated costs, "the educational experience is enriched by diversity."
Hogan agreed, saying spending some money on diversity efforts is inevitable.
"It's not always a cost-benefit analysis," he said. "Diversity is not just a value in its own right. Sometimes achieving that value has a premium and a price. It makes a difference to students walking around the campus."