President Gibson Remains Hopeful as Enrollment Declines and Staff, Faculty Unrest Looms

Gibson presented her State of the University speech amid union protests


Photo by Erwin Lopez Rada

Erwin Lopez Rada, News Editor

A half-empty auditorium, and a silent attendance, made up mostly of people wearing green shirts of the Union of Professionals of Illinois, 4100 union chapter logo and signs requesting a fair contract, received Gloria J. Gibson’s fifth speech as President of Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU).

President Gibson defended her administration’s performance and defined three main areas on which she will focus for the next year: enrollment and student retention to stop the decline in student population, budgeting to achieve sustainability and a list of strategic goals that will help consolidate both retention and budget.

Enrollment and retention are the most crucial points of improvement since the survival of NEIU depends on keeping and growing its student population. Dr. Nancy Wrinkle, the Chair of NEIU’s Faculty Senate said: “We’ve seen 10 years of declines in enrollment. [And] Well, the pandemic has really affected everybody. [But] Our institutions around Chicago, and around Illinois, have all seen enrollment increases.”

President Gibson’s enrollment team, headed by Kimberley Buster-Williams, plans to go for the “hanging fruits.” The newly hired enrollment director said, “we’re in the process of closing our businesses too, which is to get in and meet with students, we will pay influencers, we get the counselors, and really build a pool of students that express interest, and then they will be brought to us.”

NEIU grew its enrollment by more than 200 students compared to 2020, and by more than 100 when compared to last year according to graphs presented by President Gibson.

Likewise, enrollment for Fall 2022 surpassed enrollment for Fall 2019, the last full semester before the start of the pandemic. The bump had to do with NEIU’s strategies like the NEIU For You Program, the Living Learning Communities project and the hiring of new recruiters. President Gibson also highlighted the relationships that NEIU is building with Chicago Public Schools. 

But as Buster-Williams hinted during the Q & A session, the work at enrollment is still raw. A couple of prospective students wandering by Village Square showed The Independent an email allegedly sent by Enrollment inviting them to an Open House session at the Main Campus when the session was supposed to be only at the Carruthers Center for Inner Cities Studies in Bronzeville.

NEIU boasted good financial numbers for this fiscal year. The increase in state and federal funding to help schools navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and the management of Vice President of Finances and Administration Manish Kumar and his team kept the school afloat.

But the university is not meeting its recruiting and retention goals, and with fewer students paying fees, the maintenance of operations for NEIU could get to a breaking point.

For this fiscal year – 2023 –, President Gibson’s team already decided to cut expenses by 6% in all vice presidents’ areas since a 9% drop in enrollment for Fall 2022 generated a deficit of just over $5 million.

Upon questioning from The Independent, vice presidents explained where they did cut funds. President Gibson said that she cut expenses on her personal budget and hired for her office.

Manish Kumar, Vice President of Finance and Administration, summed up the actions of the administration saying that “we balanced our budget by taking away a whole take on recruiting on some of the vacant positions in certain areas, [we did] limited restructuring in our current operations, and we are also anticipating some additional revenue coming in from the addition of precedents that we have in the Nest.”

NEIU’s administration expects to stop an economic shortfall next semester by doubling down on student recruitment and improving retention. The goal is to increase retention from 62% to around 80%, a very ambitious goal. 

Dr. Terry Mena, the Vice President and Dean of Students for Student Affairs, said that NEIU is promoting strategies to treat students in a more “holistic way.”

President Gibson touted the investments made in counseling, NEIU hired two counselors and had seen an increase in services provided. President Gibson and Dr. Mena also talked about the NEIU scholarship for students going through housing issues. 

Dr. Mena reassured students that the funds available for student activities and organizations like the Student Government Association, the Student Media Board and the Council of Clubs are secured. He said that money for student activities “is a different funding source. We call them local funds. That’s when [we use] the students’ fee funds, and that activity to examine where we’re at to this point is going to happen in the next couple of weeks.”

President Gibson closed her speech by establishing some strategic priorities that NEIU need to work on in order to achieve sustainability: selecting a New Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs and the creation of a committee to see the possibility of bringing athletics back to NEIU – President Gibson said that some alumni talked about investing on sport programs.

NEIU is also creating a doctoral program in urban education and is planning to expand the career possibilities at NEIU by adding a nursing program in the coming years and the possibility of taking pre-law classes and then transferring them to other institutions.

Photo by Erwin Lopez Rada