WIU interim president says spring retention is higher than last year’s

MACOMB, Ill. (NEWS3) — Western Illinois University Interim President Martin Abraham delivered a State of the University address Monday discussing where the university stands and its focus for the future this spring.

“Western Illinois has turned the corner,” Abraham said. “We’re headed in the right and I believe a positive direction in setting a future for this outstanding university and the tremendous communities that it calls home.”

Abraham said the fall to spring new freshmen retention for this school year appears to be roughly 85 percent. He said that is an increase of nearly 5 percent than last year’s retention.

“We will succeed, because the people here embody incredible spirit and fortitude; as do our students,” Abraham said.

Abraham said spring enrollment of new graduate students appears to be stronger than last year. He also said, although new freshmen and transfer students remain down, they are not as low as they have been in prior years. WIU will release more information on the spring enrollment numbers toward the end of the month.

“We have more admitted students for the fall of 2020 than we did at this time last year,” Abraham said.  “I have said since I took over in July, that our target was to have a larger incoming class for the fall of 2020 than we did of the fall of 2019. This remains our goal, and a goal that remains within our reach.”

Abraham said his administration is working on building a stronger diversity platform on campus. He said plans are in the works to reinstitute a diversity council as well as develop a community engagement council.

WIU hired Carl Ervin and WIU Alumus Jerome Halsey in December to fill positions in the WIU Multicultural Center. Ervin will serve as program coordinator and Halsey will serve as events coordinator of the center. Rocio Ayard Ochoa remains the director of the center.

“Issues cannot and will not be ignored. And the reaction time from authorities and administrators and allies will be immediate and purposeful,” Abraham said.

On the budget front, Abraham said the university may be able to end the year in the black for the first time since fiscal year 2017.

“Our ability to achieve this goal ultimately depends on our deligence to hold the line on spending for the remainder of this current fiscal year,” Abraham said. “We must continue to spend under our departmental budgets; both operating and personnel.”

Abraham said WIU’s budgeted expense remains greater than revenue coming into the university because of consecutive yearly declines in student enrollment. He expects tuition revenue to be less next fiscal year than it is this year. He said it’s unclear what the State of Illinois will budget for the 2021 fiscal year and beyond.

“To bring our budgeted expense in line with actual revenue, we must continue to identify reductions,” Abraham said. “However, because of your efforts to reduce expenditures and the expectations that you will continue to identify opportunities to reduce costs, we do not need to take any extraordinary measures to further rein in spending.”

Abraham also mentioned in his speech that his administration will be investing in new programs. He also said a planning and development team will be formed over the next several months to focus on plans to build a new performing arts center.

“It’s been an exciting six months, and we’ve made some outstanding progress, but we do have a lot more work ahead of us,” Abraham said.

Abraham’s first State of the University address comes more than a month after the WIU Board of Trustees voted to conduct a national search for the 12th president of WIU over appointing Abraham as president.

Abraham said during his speech, “I intend to be here. I’m committed to the success of this institution and I hope to be here for many years to come.”

After the address, NEWS3 asked Abraham if he plans to apply for the president position of the university. He responded by saying, “My goal is to retire from Western Illinois University, not soon, but in the long run.”

Abraham is contracted as the interim president until the end of June. He told NEWS3 if there is not a decision from the BOT by then, he has the ability to be renewed as interim.

Abraham said the state has agreed to move forward with the $8.1 million Center for Performing Arts project. He said WIU plans to finalize the construction plans within the next six months and expects to break ground by the end of 2020.

The WIU BOT will meet for their spring meeting on March 26 and 27.