Tuesday, March 17, 2020

UIS announces May commencement ceremony will not take place due to COVID-19

The following email was sent by the University of Illinois System on March 17, 2020.

Dear students, parents, faculty, staff and friends:

We are very disappointed to share the news that commencement ceremonies will not take place as scheduled in May at our universities in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Diplomas will be mailed, and we are exploring possible alternatives such as rescheduling and/or hosting virtual events to honor the Class of 2020. You will hear more from leadership of your universities in the days and weeks to come.

This was an outcome we had hoped to avoid. Commencements reflect the very core of our mission and provide a richly deserved celebration for both our graduates and the proud parents, family, friends, faculty and staff who supported them along the way. Every year, ceremonies across the U of I System draw anywhere from a few hundred people at school- and college-based commencements to more than 20,000 at Urbana’s university-wide event.

Even small turnouts, however, would far exceed the guidance issued last weekend by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to slow the spread of the virus. The new guidelines call for cancelling or postponing all large gatherings for at least the next eight weeks – a timeline that brings us within days of our May commencements.

We know you share the goal of those restrictions – protecting yourselves and the well-being of your family, friends and the broader community, particularly the most vulnerable among us. We are proud of your sacrifice and your success, Class of 2020, and we promise we will find ways to honor your achievements.

Tim Killeen, President, University of Illinois System
Barbara J. Wilson, Executive Vice President and Vice President for Academic Affairs, University of Illinois System
Robert J. Jones, Chancellor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Michael D. Amiridis, Chancellor, University of Illinois at Chicago
Susan J. Koch, Chancellor, University of Illinois at Springfield

Thursday, March 12, 2020

University of Illinois Board of Trustees approves new UIS infrastructure and facilities master plan

The University of Illinois Board of Trustees approved the University of Illinois Springfield’s new infrastructure and facilities 2020 master plan during its March 12 meeting in Urbana.

The new master plan will guide investment decisions and enhancements to existing campus facilities, new construction, parking/road network, landscape and utilities that will support a more flexible, adaptable, responsible and sustainable campus.

“Created with the input from hundreds of stakeholders, this master plan is a visionary roadmap with opportunities to support the university’s momentum and growth in both reputation and enrollment,” UIS Chancellor Susan Koch said. “This master plan will better position UIS to provide a pathway to opportunity and a space of possibility for both undergraduate and graduate students.”

The master plan calls for UIS to create a larger presence in its existing footprint, particularly along 11th Street where commercial development is encouraged, allowing UIS to become a more prominent destination and asset to the Springfield community, central Illinois and beyond.

The master plan includes strategic renovations to existing campus buildings, as well as construction of several new facilities including a new Public Safety Building; a Library Learning and Student Success Center; a Child Development Center; an Information Sciences Building and a Business Building, among others. The design process for the new Library, Learning and Student Success Center is expected to be announced this spring. Funding for an Innovation Center in downtown Springfield was announced as part of the UI’s Illinois Innovation Network earlier this month.

Several athletics projects are also part of the master plan, including construction of a baseball/softball complex, tennis complex, golf training facility and a natatorium (pool complex) as part of The Recreation and Athletic Center. An Athletics Field House, a possible public/private partnership, is also part of the plan.

Some other projects mentioned in the master plan include enhancing university gateways, developing the east and west quads, reserving land for a future solar energy farm and realigning several parking lots and streets.

“The UIS 2020 Master Plan will create a more cohesive campus,” said Chuck Coderko, UIS associate chancellor for administrative affairs, facilities and services. “Building systems, utilities and transportation networks will be modernized to create a more sustainable and inviting living, learning and teaching environment for our students, employees and visitors to campus.”

The master plan was designed by the St. Louis-based Lawrence Group during a 15-month process. The four main goals of the master plan were to cultivate a premier educational experience, support a vibrant campus life and culture, implement growth strategies and foster partnerships.

“This master plan allows us to ‘dream big’ about the future growth of the university and will serve as a road map as we work hand-in-hand with our elected leaders, the University of Illinois System and our community to fund the projects,” Coderko said.

You can view an executive summary of the new UIS master plan by visiting go.uis.edu/masterplan.

UIS extending spring break for students by one week, courses to be delivered remotely starting March 23

The following message was sent to UIS students, faculty and staff on March 12, 2020.

Dear UIS Community —

By now we hope you have read yesterday’s communication from President Killeen and the three University of Illinois chancellors regarding the steps the UI System is taking to protect our students, faculty and staff amid the increasing COVID-19 threat to public health. Safety is our top priority, and we are taking this rapidly evolving situation seriously.

We realize our UIS community has many questions following yesterday’s announcement. We intend to communicate with you often to address these questions, and this morning we want to share with you some pertinent information.

Most importantly, after consultation with the COVID-19 Response Team, we have decided to extend Spring Break for students by one week (March 16-22) to enable faculty and staff to effectively migrate courses to alternative delivery methods. Courses will resume in their new formats beginning March 23.

Students: During this extra week of Spring Break, the campus will remain open, including residence halls and dining services. While we encourage you to stay home as much as possible to limit possible exposure, you may return to campus if you wish to do so. Please check your UIS email for communication from faculty regarding plans to complete your courses through remote teaching or other formats. Student employees have the option of returning to their on-campus jobs as scheduled, but we ask you to communicate with your supervisor if you do not intend to follow your planned work schedule. Students who need technology assistance should contact the Helpdesk at 217-206-6000 or email techsupport@uis.edu.

Faculty and staff: The UIS campus remains open, and all faculty and staff are expected to work as usual. Ensuring the non-interruption of instruction is a top priority for UIS and the UI System. An Instructional Continuity Planning Subcommittee is already working to help faculty transition to successfully deliver courses using remote technology. The Teaching Remotely at UIS webpage provides resources to assist faculty with remote course delivery. Every course at UIS has a Blackboard course site. Through Blackboard, you can send emails and post announcements to your students. The Teaching Remotely at UIS webpage lists many other technologies at UIS that can be used to remotely deliver content, conduct instructional activities and interact with students. ITS will be providing workshops next week to help faculty with technology. COLRS is available to help in any way at 217-206-7317 or at colrs@uis.edu.

Travel: All university-sponsored international travel for students, faculty and staff is prohibited, along with nonessential domestic travel, until further notice. Additionally, personal international travel is strongly discouraged, especially for those with underlying health conditions. We also urge anyone considering personal domestic travel to use caution and exercise good judgment.

Events and meetings: UIS is suspending university-sponsored, in-person events and meetings with 50 people or more using campus facilities effective March 13. If appropriate, organizers should seek alternative ways of conducting events and meetings, such as livestreams or conference calls. University-sponsored events include those planned by registered student organizations. UIS also strongly recommends reconsidering the need for any in-person meetings at this time, regardless of attendance size, and if necessary, to practice appropriate social distancing and other preventative measures. For updates on Performing Arts Center events, visit uispac.com.

Moving forward…

Many people across our university have been planning for weeks to be prepared for this situation. The UIS COVID-19 Response Team and many others have worked in concert with local, state and national public health officials and taken precautionary steps, including sanitation activities across campus and contingency planning to ensure we can effectively meet the needs of students, faculty and staff.

The UIS Campus Relations team will be updating our COVID-19 website, uis.edu/covid-19, frequently. We highly encourage all faculty, staff and students to monitor this website for updates as well as your university email for announcements. An email address, covid19@uis.edu, has been established for anyone who wants to submit a question about the UIS response to COVID-19.

There have been no reported cases of COVID-19 in Sangamon County or within the UIS community to-date, but we strongly encourage all members of the university to follow personal health practices recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including proper handwashing and avoiding large groups.

These are challenging times, which we understand can cause stress and confusion. Please be assured that everything being done is in the interest of, first and foremost, protecting the health and safety of our university community. UIS Health Services and the Counseling Center remain available to assist students who have concerns or questions.

Thank you for your cooperation and understanding as we navigate this extraordinary situation.

Susan Koch, Chancellor
Dennis Papini, Provost
Clarice Ford, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

UIS classes to be taught remotely in response to COVID-19 situation

The following message was sent to U of I System faculty, staff and students on March 11, 2020.

We write today to share new policies for the University of Illinois System and its universities in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield, all designed to protect the health and welfare of our students, faculty and staff amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The proactive policies are focused squarely on doing our part to help curb the virus. Fortunately, there have been no confirmed cases among our faculty, staff and students. But such cases have been increasing in Illinois and our experts say early intervention is the best option to limit the spread.

Our policies will adopt best practices endorsed by state and national health officials by minimizing face-to-face exposure in classrooms and other types of large gatherings, and by limiting international and domestic travel. They were developed with guidance from the leading-edge healthcare experts across our universities, who have been consulting daily with a leadership team composed of the president, the chancellors and the provosts from all three universities. We will continue to monitor the outbreak and stay in constant contact with the Governor’s Office, the Illinois Department of Public Health, local health departments, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other universities around the state and the nation.

The new policies were carefully crafted to safeguard our students, faculty and staff without compromising the world-class education and the groundbreaking research discovery that are synonymous with the U of I System. They are:

  • Courses at each of our three universities will immediately begin migrating to online or alternative delivery mechanisms to provide the social distancing that helps limit transmission of the virus, with a goal of completion by March 23. Classes will be held at their currently scheduled times.
  • Online and other alternative learning methods will continue until further notice, but our expectation is that it will be temporary and students will be updated regularly via email and updates on system and university websites.
  • Students have the option of studying remotely from home or from their campus residence after spring break.
  • Our campuses will remain open and ready to serve students, including residence and dining halls.
  • Each university will provide specific guidance for their students regarding both academic and housing arrangements.
  • Faculty and staff will continue their work on campus, including research, and human resources offices will provide guidance for work conditions that foster safety and for employees who suspect exposure or infection and must self-quarantine. 
  • Events with more than 50 attendees that are university-sponsored or hosted by registered student organizations will be suspended indefinitely, effective Friday, March 13.
  • Events may occur via livestream or other telecommunications, or be postponed to a future date.
  • Please check with each university for specific guidance.

  • All university-sponsored international travel is prohibited, along with non-essential domestic travel until further notice.
  • Personal international travel is strongly discouraged, and we urge caution and the exercise of good judgment for personal domestic travel. 
Leaders of our three universities will share further information for how these policies will be implemented to address the specific educational and safety needs of their campus communities. UI Hospital and clinics will provide additional protocols to address the unique needs in providing care for their patients.

We recognize the many challenges this will create for our students, faculty and staff. We pledge to do everything in our power to support you during this temporary move to safeguard your health and the health of people in the communities we call home.

Our policies are rooted in our expert scientific knowledge base and exhibit an abundance of caution to take care of each other until the COVID-19 outbreak eases. We are all in this together, and appreciate your support and understanding.


Tim Killeen, President, University of Illinois System
Barbara J. Wilson, Executive Vice President and Vice President for Academic Affairs, University of Illinois System
Robert J. Jones, Chancellor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Michael D. Amiridis, Chancellor, University of Illinois at Chicago
Susan J. Koch, Chancellor, University of Illinois at Springfield

UIS Career Development Center selected for CIC-SHRM Diversity and Inclusion Award

The Career Development Center at the University of Illinois Springfield was chosen to receive the Central Illinois Chapter of the Society of Human Resource Managers Diversity and Inclusion Award during the organization’s annual recognition event earlier this month.

The award honors outstanding work in the area of Human Resources from within member organizations as well as the community at large.

The UIS Career Development Center was chosen for its success identifying the needs of each type of student on the diverse campus; (including traditional, non-traditional and international) and cultivating their skills and abilities for a professional career.

“The UIS Career Development Center provides a wide variety of resources to students to prepare them for a successful future in the workplace both before and after graduation,” said a nominator.

The Career Development Center was recognized for hosting the annual and successful Career Connections Expo, which gives students and community members exposure to diverse industries and an opportunity to network with professionals and peers.

“We are honored to be recognized for our work in collaborating with local professionals for the benefit of both UIS students and the larger Springfield and Sangamon County communities,” said Kathyy Battee-Freeman, director of the UIS Career Development Center. “Through this work we are reaching a diverse population and help
ing strengthen the Illinois workforce.”

Friday, March 06, 2020

UIS COVID-19 response and resources

The University of Illinois Springfield has established the UIS COVID-19 Response Team to monitor our university's preparedness in response to the growing global concern about the novel coronavirus COVID-19. Currently, we are NOT aware of any COVID-19 cases on the UIS campus.

UIS has created a webpage to serve as a resource for all UIS stakeholders seeking information and updates about the impact of the COVID-19 virus on our university community. 

Thursday, February 27, 2020

UIS-developed Child Protection Training Academy to be replicated in southern Illinois

The Child Protection Training Academy (CPTA) first developed at the University of Illinois Springfield, in partnership with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), will be replicated through a new partnership with the Southern Illinois University (SIU) School of Medicine.

The academy’s southern Illinois site will train DCFS, law enforcement and other frontline professionals in methods to better protect at-risk children from abuse in the southern region of the state.

The UIS CPTA was the first statewide simulation training project in the country that provided a child protection training laboratory for frontline professionals and students. Since its founding in 2016, the UIS CPTA in Springfield has trained more than 700 new child protection investigators using a residential simulation lab located in a small house on campus and a mock courtroom.

“The CPTA team is extremely excited to transfer the knowledge we have learned over the past four years to our partnership with SIU,” said Betsy Goulet, coordinator of the UIS Child Protection Training Academy. “The new academy site will expand opportunities and provide a realistic environment for training other allied professionals in the southern region.”

The UIS CPTA was awarded state funding for the expansion, after submitting a request to DCFS. The CPTA team, SIU School of Medicine leaders, the Poshard Foundation for Abused Children and community leaders are working together with DCFS to identify a physical location in proximity to the Southern Illinois University Carbondale campus for the new simulation lab.

In partnership with DCFS, the CPTA expanded to Chicago in 2019 with simulation labs in a DCFS field office on Emerald Drive and 63rd Street. Since the program’s launch in April 2019, 102 investigators have been trained at the Chicago Academy site.

“Expanding to other parts of the state is a vital part of our plan to help protect all of the children in the state of Illinois,” Goulet said. “This expansion will give more child protection investigators and law enforcement personnel access to vital training that has proven itself to be effective.”

The Children and Family Research Center at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has been evaluating the UIS model since 2016, indicating positive responses to simulation training. The third year of evaluation data indicates the CPTA appears to be positively impacting turnover at DCFS. Non-simulation-trained investigators (hired before 2016) are twice as likely to leave DCFS at the 18-month mark versus investigators who have been simulation-trained.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

New UIS online course gives business professionals the chance to become data analytics ninjas

The University of Illinois Springfield is offering a chance for business professionals to become data analytics ninjas through a new highly marketable Splunk fundamentals course that can be completed online in only a month.

Splunk is a platform that can search, monitor and analyze massive amounts of data from any source to obtain real-time insights. The platform reduces the time spent organizing data, which means businesses can make decisions faster.

“Business professionals who take this course will become instantly marketable,” said Somnath Bhattacharya, dean of the UIS College of Business and Management. “Put simply, data analysts are valuable, and with a looming skills shortage on the horizon, as more and more businesses and sectors start working with big data, this value is only going to increase.”

The Splunk platform will be used throughout the course to teach students the fundamentals of big data and data analytics. By utilizing Splunk, students will learn how to collect, index, search, analyze and visualize data in one place. The class is designed to prepare students to pass the Splunk Core Certified User exam.

“Strong demand for data analytics skills is boosting the wages for qualified professionals,” said Rob Kerr, UIS associate director of continuing and professional education. “As the demand steadily increases and the supply remains low, data analytics professionals are getting paid more and more.”

Registration for the March 19-April 16 course is currently open. The deadline to apply for the first session is March 6. For more information on the course, registration and other scheduled sessions, visit uis.edu/cape.

The fundamentals course is being offered through a partnership with the UIS College of Business and Management, UIS Continuing and Professional Education (CAPE) and bitsIO, Inc., a local Springfield business and Innovate Springfield member.

bitsIO, Inc., who will lead and facilitate the course, is a leading Splunk Elite Partner. As one of the leading Splunk partners in the industry, bitsIO, Inc. has over two decades of expertise in the IT domain and a track record of deploying Splunk technologies to national and international companies.

For more information, contact Rob Kerr, UIS associate director of continuing and professional education, at 217-206-8644 or rkerr6@uis.edu.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

UIS announces Fall Semester 2019 Dean’s List

The University of Illinois Springfield has released the Dean’s List for Fall Semester 2019. A total of 599 students were selected; 82 are students in the College of Business and Management, 48 are students in the College of Education and Human Services, 382 are enrolled in programs in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, 57 are enrolled in programs in the College of Public Affairs and Administration and 30 are non-degree seeking or undecided.

In order to qualify for the Dean’s List, a student must be an undergraduate who took at least eight graded semester hours and maintained a grade-point average of at least 3.75 for the semester.

Below you'll find a printable list of student's names listed by the city of residence on file with UIS Records and Registration.

Fall 2019 Dean's List PDF | Fall 2019 Dean's List Excel

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Gov. Pritzker announces funding for UIS Innovation Center

University of Illinois President Tim Killeen and Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Feb. 12 that the State of Illinois is moving forward with capital funding for the Illinois Innovation Network (IIN) and Discovery Partners Institute (DPI).  The UIS Innovation Center will receive $15 million in state funds as part of the $500 million appropriation. The IIN is a connected system of university-, community- and industry-based hubs that will work together to drive innovation and economic development across Illinois.

"This is great news for UIS and Springfield," said UIS Chancellor Susan Koch. "The governor's announcement to move forward with $500 million in capital funding for the Illinois Innovation Network and Discovery Partners Institute puts us one step closer to realizing our vision for a downtown innovation center, to include an expanded Innovate Springfield. We look forward to the release of a portion of our $15 million appropriation relatively soon so we can move forward to the design phase of our plan in Springfield."

The Innovate Springfield business incubator in downtown Springfield, part of UIS' Center for State Policy and Leadeship, was the first hub in the IIN and will continue to play a pivotal role in the UIS Innovation Center. 

The UIS Innovation Center will be a modern space located in proximity to the Illinois State Capitol.

The Center will focus on five strategic areas.

1. Business Incubation and Acceleration UIS will expand Innovate Springfield's incubation activities and launch new business acceleration and workforce development initiatives in collaboration with industry and local research partners.

2. Technology & Research Commercialization The Center will capitalize on assets from the Discovery Partners Institute and the IIN at-large to resource local researchers, corporate research-and-design staff and entrepreneurs to bring new products and services to market.

3. Social Innovation UIS will expand its evidence-based social innovation activities and partnerships by providing collaborative space for philanthropies, social service agencies, faculty researchers, students and lawmakers to analyze and implement improvements to existing programs or cultivate new services.

4. Public Policy Research UIS' Center for State Policy and Leadership will join other policy institutes from across the state to provide lawmakers a central location for research, analytical and design-thinking services on a variety of critical issues.

5. Workforce Development and Education The Center's location within the heart of state government and regional industry will allow UIS to expand existing graduate-level internship and fellowship programs, and launch new innovative workforce and professional education initiatives to support regional employers. 

The UIS Innovation Center will be one of 15 hubs in the IIN, which links every public university in the state and U of I College of Medicine locations in Peoria and Rockford. Projects planned at other hubs will apply to technology, manufacturing, transportation, health and wellness, the environment and entrepreneurship.

The University is currently in discussions over possible downtown locations for the UIS Innovation Center. 

Friday, February 07, 2020

UIS Chancellor Koch announces retirement, led university since 2011

Susan J. Koch, chancellor of the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) since 2011, announced Friday she will retire as chancellor of UIS and vice president of the University of Illinois System effective June 30. She is currently the longest-serving chancellor of the U of I System.

During her tenure, Koch has provided leadership and vision for UIS, which is ranked the top regional public university in Illinois by U.S. News & World Report.

“The past nine years have been among the most fulfilling of my career, and it has been a privilege to work with so many outstanding faculty, staff and students,” Koch said. “I love the university and the community my husband Dennis and I have called home for nearly a decade, and I am so proud of everything this young university has achieved.”

U of I System President Tim Killeen said Koch will leave a legacy that will be felt by students for generations.

“Susan’s leadership and persistence have enriched UIS’s academic excellence, provided new opportunities for students, expanded and beautified the campus and laid the groundwork to do even more,” Killeen said. “I am grateful for her commitment, her friendship and I wish her and Dennis nothing but happiness in their much-deserved retirement.”

Since her appointment in July 2011, UIS has added numerous academic programs to meet the interests of students as well as the needs of local and regional employers. They include programs in information systems security, data analytics, theater, exercise science, and a new bachelor of science in nursing through a partnership with University of Illinois at Chicago and Memorial Health System. With Koch at the helm, UIS also has successfully recruited two University of Illinois Distinguished Scholars – Ken Kriz in public administration and Graham Peck in Lincoln studies. The additions are part of an initiative to attract senior star faculty who can help transform the system’s three universities through their exceptional teaching and scholarship.

Record fundraising under Koch’s leadership has resulted in construction of a new, award-winning $21.7 million Student Union, the first on the UIS campus, and an increase in scholarship support to improve students’ access to a UIS education.

Koch has led many successful fundraising endeavors for UIS. The Brilliant Futures Campaign, completed in 2012, surpassed its $28 million goal. The current Reaching Stellar Campaign, set to conclude in 2022, has raised more than $33 million of its $40 million goal to date.

Private giving has also led to the creation of “The Sangamon Experience,” a unique exhibition space and research initiative opened Jan. 30 that will support faculty and students and spur new research, teaching and community engagement about the Sangamon region of Illinois. A new Center for Lincoln Studies, also supported by private gifts, will open later this spring.

Koch was instrumental in the university’s August 2018 acquisition of Innovate Springfield. In joining UIS, the downtown innovation and business center became the first hub of the Illinois Innovation Network, a network of research and education centers across the state led by the U of I System. They will partner will the system’s Discovery Partners Institute in Chicago to foster the innovation and talent that drives progress and economic growth.

Her leadership has also led to expansion of the university’s young Division II athletics program, whose teams have won individual and conference championships. At the same time, Prairie Stars student-athletes this past fall earned the highest collective grade-point average (3.38) in university history.

Koch has secured several awards from the U of I System’s Chester Fund, a privately funded endowment to support the acquisition of significant artwork for campus beautification. Acquisitions include “The Young Lawyer,” a Lincoln sculpture by George Lundeen; a Shakespeare Garden featuring “Shakespeare,” a sculpture by James Price; and works by Sanford Biggers and Lisa Williamson for the Student Union.

“While I am looking forward to having time that my husband and I can devote to enjoying our family and to unlocking new possibilities to grow and contribute, this was a bittersweet decision,” Koch said. “What makes it easier is my confidence that UIS will continue to be an asset for our community and our state thanks to dedicated colleagues, alumni and donors who believe in our vision to be a pathway of opportunity for the thousands of students we educate each year.”

“To have played a small part in the success of our university is a gift I will always treasure,” Koch added.

Killeen said there will be a timely and transparent leadership transition process.

Koch is the sixth chief executive in the nearly 50-year history of the university. It was known as Sangamon State University for 25 years and has been part of the U of I System since 1995.

Koch’s career encompasses more than four decades in education, with the last 35 years in higher education. Before her appointment as UIS chancellor, Koch served as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Northern Michigan University. She also served as associate provost and graduate dean at the University of Northern Iowa, where she began her career in higher education as a professor of community and public health.

Koch earned a bachelor’s degree with honors from Dakota State University in South Dakota and master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Northern Iowa. In 2016, she was awarded an honorary doctorate in public service from Dakota State University. Koch is also the author of a widely read monthly column, “UIS Perspectives,” for Springfield’s State Journal-Register and has been active with several community organizations along with serving on many boards in central Illinois.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

UIS cuts ribbon on Sangamon Experience, a new exhibition telling the history of central Illinois

The University of Illinois Springfield held a grand opening for Sangamon Experience, a new on-campus exhibition telling the history of the Sangamon Region of central Illinois, on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020.

Chancellor Susan J. Koch welcomed a crowd of almost 300 people to the exhibit on the lower level of the Public Affairs Center.

The multifaceted initiative includes a 5,300-square-foot space featuring multimedia and interactive exhibits, historical maps and photographs, a small theater and interpretive text developed by teams of UIS students, faculty and community partners.

“Our opening exhibit has some interactive flat screens featuring different historical images through the years and a wall that covers the years 1800 to 1860 in the Sangamon Region,” said Devin Hunter, UIS assistant professor of history and faculty lead on the project.

Hunter is assisted on the project by a community advisory board that provides feedback and suggests direction for the creation and sustaining of Sangamon Experience.

Beyond the Sangamon Experience space itself, the project includes a dynamic website to share and promote local historical activities, online historical research and customized community partnerships.

The Sangamon Experience space was designed by FWAI Architects, Inc. of Springfield. It was made possible by an anonymous, major private gift to the University of Illinois Springfield.

UIS report finds state and local public safety pension systems underfunded due to contribution method

A new report from the University of Illinois Springfield’s Institute for Illinois Public Finance finds that the state’s public employee pension systems and downstate police and fire pension systems are not contributing enough to fund their liabilities, due in part, to the method used to determine how much money is put into plans each year.

The paper, “Are Illinois State and Local Governments Contributing Enough to Their Pension Plans to Pay Down Their Debt?,” takes a look at some of the assumptions used to determine contributions and how they are affecting the funding levels of pensions in Illinois.

Kenneth Kriz, UIS distinguished professor of public administration and director of the Institute for Illinois Public Finance, said contribution levels are crucial because there are only three levers policymakers can use to try to address pension funding shortfalls: increasing investment returns, decreasing benefit costs and increasing the contributions governments make to the plans.

However, options are limited, at least in the short term, for reducing the cost of benefits or increasing investment returns, said Kriz, who authored the report.

“The third lever, and the one that they can really control a lot, is the contributions they need. So, setting appropriate contribution rates is extremely important,” he said.

Indeed, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) recently cited insufficient contributions and lower-than-expected investment returns, as prime drivers of an unexpected spike in the state’s unfunded pension liabilities last fiscal year. COGFA pegged that liability at $137.3 billion as of June 30, after Illinois’ unfunded pension liability grew by a half-billion dollars more than initially projected.

Illinois state pension plans and downstate police and fire plans use what is known as the level percentage of payroll assumption for calculating plan costs. Under this assumption, unfunded liabilities are amortized so that the plans expect to pay the same percentage of payroll each year into their pension systems. This is the method most states use, and it assumes that the amount being paid will increase as time goes on and payrolls grow.

Kriz said this method is similar to taking out a balloon-payment loan to buy a house. Under such a loan, payment amounts spike dramatically near the end, when the borrower is paying off the bulk of the principal.

“It may look like governments are contributing enough into their pension plans, if you make a huge number of assumptions,” he said. “However, if you use more realistic assumptions, they’re not anywhere close to contributing enough. That means that the payments are going to have to rise dramatically in the future.”

Another method for determining contributions, known as the level dollar assumption, is similar to taking out a traditional mortgage, where each debt payment is roughly the same amount. Using a level dollar assumption would stop governments from pushing most costs off to the future by requiring larger contributions now. That could leave state and local governments with less revenue to spend on other priorities in the short term, but it would also mean that policymakers in the future will likely not be scrambling to make impossibly high contributions.

Kriz compared the problem to trying to run from Springfield to Chicago. “If you run about 10 miles a day, you will be in Chicago in about 20 years. At the current rate, they’re not only not running that 10 miles, they’re headed in the wrong direction,” Kriz said. “It’s like the goal is Chicago, but they’re headed toward St. Louis instead and hoping to make it all up in the last few years.”

Kriz said that increasing contributions now instead of delaying that fiscal pain would be a challenge, and bad budget years would make it even harder. “Obviously, there will be times that running 10 miles a day is going to be difficult. But if you keep skipping out or going the wrong way, you’re never going to be able to run fast enough to cover all that lost ground. We want to be headed toward Chicago at whatever pace is possible, but it’s got to be realistic”

Kriz said there is a potential upside, too. If governments were to opt for a policy that more resembles a level dollar assumption, the cost of payments would be fairly predictable and easier to plan for in the future. If payrolls continue to grow over the years, the contribution would also become a smaller percentage of payroll over time.

Moves to try to improve efficiency and increase returns on investment, like recently-passed legislation to consolidate suburban and downstate public safety pension funds, could help, Kriz said. “It’s a good first step, but it’s not going to get you all the way. Having better investment returns will help plans become better funded, but it’s not a panacea,” he said.

Kriz said consolidations could open up smaller local governments to more volatility as the consolidated fund takes on riskier investments than they have been able to pursue on their own. “If we have a meltdown in the market next year, God forbid, contributions are going to have to rise,” he said. “And so the question comes back to, are governments going to be willing to and able to make increased payments?”

The full report is available in a white paper format on the UIS Institute for Illinois Public Finance’s website.

Note: This article was produced by the Institute of Government and Public Affairs as part of IGPA’s efforts to connect relevant, nonpartisan research and expertise from the University of Illinois System to the public policy discussion in Illinois.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

UIS Institute for Illinois Public Finance releases report on state government efficiency

A study released today by the University of Illinois Springfield’s Institute for Illinois Public Finance reports mixed results with respect to the efficiency of Illinois state government when compared to other states.

The study finds that Illinois state government is in a group of the most efficient states in three areas: higher education, environment and housing, and infrastructure. It is in the top 20 states for efficiency in welfare, and in the top half of states for public safety and health and hospitals efficiency.

However, the state ranks below average in efficiency in elementary and secondary education and near the bottom in transportation.

“The study is unique in that the measures of efficiency that are produced lead directly to recommendations for improving the efficiency of state government operations,” said Arwi Srithongrung Kriz, a UIS Institute for Illinois Public Finance research fellow who authored the study.

Recommendations in the study include increasing regional or centralized services shared by local school districts for the elementary and secondary education function and reducing capital project acquisition costs when it comes to transportation.

Srithongrung Kriz, an internationally recognized expert on efficiency measurement who holds a doctorate in public administration, developed measures of efficiency for eight functions of state government: higher education, elementary and secondary education, public welfare, health and hospitals, transportation, public safety, environment and housing and infrastructure.

She compares numerous measures of the things that government produces, such as the number of degrees awarded at public universities and the number of prisoners in correctional facilities with the costs of those services and the number of state employees in each function.

Srithongrung Kriz employed a methodology, which she says has been scientifically tested in many settings and is superior to measures used in previous analyses of state government efficiency.

The study is available in a longer working paper format that compares efficiency across all states and a shorter white paper version that focuses on Illinois state government.

For more information, contact Arwi Srithongrung Kriz at 217-206-8047 or asrit1@uis.edu.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

UIS to receive a $100,000 grant aimed at developing new programs to support minority students in STEM fields

The University of Illinois Springfield will receive a five-year $100,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant aimed at developing and implementing evidence-based programs that will support the academic success of underrepresented minority (URM) students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Lucía Vázquez, associate dean of the UIS College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, will serve as one of the principal investigators on the project.

“Nationwide, minorities are underrepresented in the STEM workforce; also, of the students who start as STEM majors, about 40 percent of them switch majors and 23 percent drop out of college,” said Vázquez. “Given this situation and the prediction that the demand for professionals in STEM fields will increase in the near future (based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics), then it is imperative that we implement programs to promote the academic success of our minority students in these areas.”

The grant was awarded to the Illinois LSAMP STEM Pathway and Research Alliance (ILSPRA) through Chicago State University. ILSPRA is made up of a diverse group of 10 public and private universities and community colleges in urban and rural settings throughout the state of Illinois; these institutions will collaborate to achieve the objectives of this grant project.

One of the goals of the grant is to increase the participation of URM students in research through the establishment of faculty-student mentoring teams. A second goal is to provide students with academic support in gateway courses through the implementation of a learning assistant (LA) model, which has proven to be effective in increasing student performance. The end goal is to provide a variety of resources to ensure student academic success and to prepare the next generation of scientists.

At the end of the five-year project, the ILSPRA’s goal is to have significantly increased the number of URM students graduating with STEM degrees and joining the workforce or enrolling in STEM graduate programs.

“This is an imperative because there is a need to maintain the nation’s technological edge in an increasingly highly competitive global environment,” said the ILSPRA in their program summary.

In additional to developing actionable models to support URM STEM students, the ILSPRA team will also generate scholarly and peer-reviewed publications on broadening participation that will inform the entire STEM community on evidence-based practices that promote URM student success.

UIS online bachelor’s degree programs ranked among the top 10 percent in the country

The University of Illinois Springfield’s online bachelor’s degree programs have been ranked 33rd best in the country (out of 353 institutions) for a second year in a row by U.S. News and World Report. The 2020 ranking put UIS among the top 10 percent of best online bachelor’s degree programs in the United States.

UIS’ online master’s degree programs were also ranked highly by U.S. News and World Report. The management information systems (MIS) online master’s degree was ranked 41 out of 188 in the non-MBA business category, while the UIS online master’s degree in education was ranked 69 out of 309 degrees.

“Once again this year, U.S. News recognizes that UIS offers online programs that are among the highest quality in the country,” said Ray Schroeder, UIS associate vice chancellor of online learning. “We are most proud of the faculty, staff and students who make this national recognition possible.”

In evaluating the best online bachelor’s degree programs, U.S. News & World Report assessed schools in four general categories including engagement – promoting student participation in courses and interaction with instructors and classmates, service and technologies – incorporating diverse online learning technologies allowing greater flexibility for students to take classes from a distance, faculty credentials and training – employing instructors with academic credentials that mirror campus-based programs and expert opinion – a survey of high-ranking academic officials.

U.S. News selects factors, known as ranking indicators, to assess each program in the categories outlined above. A program's score for each ranking indicator is calculated using data that the program reported to U.S. News in a statistical survey and a peer reputation survey.

UIS offers 14 online bachelor’s degree programs in business administration, communication, computer science, English, health care informatics, history, information systems security, liberal studies, management information systems, mathematical sciences, philosophy, political science, psychology and teacher education.

“UIS offers a unique perspective to online learning,” said Vickie Cook, executive director of UIS online, professional and engaged learning. “We believe that connecting students to exceptionally qualified faculty through strong instruction and online technologies is key to providing experiences that will serve students in their careers and in their lives. UIS faculty often share their experiences of working with great students who are developing the skills needed to be successful.”

According to census data, a total of 1,451 students were enrolled in online at UIS during Fall Semester 2019. UIS online students reside in 45 states, 83 counties in Illinois and 16 foreign countries and one territory (Guam).