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New SIUE chancellor looks to community partnerships to boost his alma mater

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(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

By Ashley Jost | St. Louis Post-Dispatch

EDWARDSVILLE — Randy Pembrook hopes to bring some fresh ideas to his alma mater this fall.

Top on the list is how to make Southern Illinois University Edwardsville less dependent on Illinois’ notoriously volatile state funding, most likely by seeking “creative” community and business partnerships.

Pembrook, who started on the job Aug. 1, welcomed back students Monday for a fresh semester — one that followed months of acrimony over the state’s budget.

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It took a partial, emergency spending plan passed in July for lawmakers to siphon some money to colleges and universities, some of which were laying people off in the budget crisis.

Even so, Pembrook says he knows state funding will remain uncertain. The key, he said, is finding innovate ways generate revenue for the school.

“That’s one of the themes that I am going to be talking a lot about. How do we make the institution as community-based as possible?” he said. “It’s not just Illinois. You look at any state, and state support for institutions is down.”

The circumstances are different, but the effect on higher education was similar back in Kansas where Pembrook was the provost at Washburn University in Topeka.

Washburn is a public school with a hybrid funding system. It’s predominantly funded by a county tax, with the rest of the money coming from the state. So when the state cuts 5 percent of each institution’s budget, it’s less of a hardship, Pembrook explains.

He had success back in Kansas identifying community and even state needs and finding ways to meet them in a mutually beneficial way. A local hospital, for example, was seeing large numbers of uninsured people coming into the emergency room.

The Washburn nursing school teamed up with the hospital to address the issue. The hospital paid for a mobile clinic, a full-time employee and the rest of the so-called staff were students and faculty.

Similarly, when the state of Kansas was unable to catch up on evidence processing, Washburn agreed to boost its forensics program. The state paid more than $50 million to build a facility, and paid to staff it, and the students gained a hands-on learning experience, he said.

“I am convinced community partnerships are the future,” he said. “You have to figure out a way that it’s a win-win for businesses, for health institutions and for educational entities to do partnerships together.”

Pembrook is right — that is the future, according to Thomas Harnisch, director of state relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

“The clear reality is that institutions have to be entrepreneurial and look for ways to generate revenue,” Harnisch said, pointing to decreased state funding as the reason why.

Harnisch said institutions nationwide are leveraging the things that make them unique to meet needs of businesses and communities.

“This is a reality of the increased privatization of higher education,” he said. “It’s a reality that institutions cannot raise the revenue to make up from state budgets with tuition.”

The budget patch that Republican Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats in the Legislature agreed on this summer only funded about 85 percent of what higher education institutions received the previous year.

(TNS)

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and Gov. Bruce Rauner. (TNS)

It’s a little soon for Pembrook to identify areas where partnerships are possible, but in a few months he said he’ll be ready to have those discussions.

Hometown advantage

A couple of things have changed at SIUE since Pembrook graduated.

The Greenfield, native left Edwardsville with his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education and piano performance, expecting that he’d be back in a few years after getting his doctorate in Florida.

He did made it back — more than 30 years later. SIUE has seen a 30 percent increase in enrollment during the last 15 years. Pembrook said he hopes to find a way to continue those trends in a professional challenge that is very personal for him.

“There was this moment where I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to become the chancellor at an institution in the area where I grew up,'” Pembrook said. “Where my nieces and nephews and the kids of my cousins are going to go. To think about growing this institution to strengthen it not just for our students but for the future generations of my family. How cool is that?

“This area is poised to explode, and people are looking forward to expansion,” he said. “I think people have been just getting through the last year or two. They’re ready to be challenged and to move forward. That’ll be fun.”

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(c) 2016 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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