Guiyou Huang’s first year as president of Western Illinois University has been jammed with planning, programming, investments and initiatives to grow enrollment and promote diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). He also has been crisscrossing the Quad Cities region building relationships with communities and between the main Macomb, Illinois, campus and its Moline riverfront campus during […]
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Guiyou Huang’s first year as president of Western Illinois University has been jammed with planning, programming, investments and initiatives to grow enrollment and promote diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).
He also has been crisscrossing the Quad Cities region building relationships with communities and between the main Macomb, Illinois, campus and its Moline riverfront campus during the 15 months leading up to his official inauguration. Mr. Huang was scheduled to be inaugurated Thursday, March 31, as WIU’s 12th president. (The original ceremony was delayed due to COVID-19.)
Shortly after he took over as WIU president on Jan. 1, 2021, the university was under fire from some Quad Cities leaders who said the Moline campus had fallen short of promises and expectations and did not serve the needs of the Quad Cities. There were calls to find another higher education option for the region.
At the same time, the Macomb campus also still was dealing with fallout from charges of racism involving the calls for firing then-WIU President Jack Thomas, who is Black. Upon his resignation, the president was awarded a severance package state senators called an abuse of public funds.
Rather than sidestep such concerns Mr. Huang addressed them head on during an editorial board last month with the QCBJ. Outcomes, results, responsiveness and partnerships were themes of the wide-ranging conversation that also included Kristi Mindrup, the new vice president of Western Illinois University Quad Cities (WIU-QC) campus operations.
“Western has been in the Quad Cities for a long time and those buildings over there are an example of Western’s commitment to the Quad Cities,” Ms. Mindrup said of the 10-year-old Moline riverfront campus. “We have the buildings and through our strategic plan we will continue to populate those buildings with students and programs that will meet the needs of the community.”
The goal of the WIU-QC strategic plan and one for WIU is an “even stronger university and stronger presence in the Quad Cities meeting the needs of the Quad Cities area particularly,” Mr. Huang said.
The Beijing, China-born academic said he came to America “as a kid. Now I’m an old guy.” His resume details an extensive academic background including his most recent job as president of Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.
He said he was familiar with WIU before he was recruited there. A number of former colleagues were WIU alumni, he said. That included a former WIU provost who later became a presidential colleague. He also served as the now incoming Augustana College president Andrea Talentino’s dean at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont.
Growing such strong, lasting partnerships in the Quad Cities – including with the City of Moline, the Quad Cities Chamber and the business community – are key for WIU’s future, they said.
“That’s what we’ve heard more loudly than anything,” Ms. Mindrup said. “‘How do we partner? How do we work together to help each other?”
WIU-QC does that in a number of ways, they said, including through internship programs and providing expertise to the business community, for example, via the Illinois Small Business Development Center located at WIU-QC. The center has assisted many start-up and minority-owned businesses in the area.
And WIU-QC also recently learned it would receive $400,000 from the federal government to help existing businesses create succession plans.
“The new program will help us maximize a businesses’ value by coming up with plans for updates to software or facilities which makes selling a business easier when and if the time comes,” said Chris Merrett, director of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs. “Often, those businesses we call ‘anchor’ businesses – like family-owned pharmacies or hardware stores – struggle with succession plans, and in underserved communities and rural communities, it may be hard to find a buyer.”
“When a business owner leaves behind their business, it’s important to have a succession plan so it can continue to thrive,” he said in a news release announcing the new funding. That’s important, Mr. Merrett said, because “a strong business sector in a rural community is essential for the ongoing economic health of that community, and this funding will allow us to provide even greater services.”
In addition, Ms. Mindrup said, “We’re also emphasizing the early childhood education option as a program focused on meeting a community need and addressing the teacher shortage.”
That includes through the new Spanish Bilingual Early Learning and Family Empowerment Lab planned at Moline’s Enterprise Lofts. Moline Mayor Sangeetha Rayapati approached WIU-QC about creating a bilingual child care facility. It will provide hands-on experience for WIU-QC students and be open nights and weekends. It could need to be expanded in the future.
WIU-QC also has worked with students in other ways to ensure that classes are available when they need them and that its program portfolio is aligned with what they want and need. For example, she said, a new psychology major has been added and civil, electrical and mechanical components have joined a general engineering program in place since 2009.
WIU also is expanding its sports management offerings. “It was no accident,” Ms. Mindrup said that the expansion came after the announcement that the TBK Bank Sports Complex, in Bettendorf, would be expanding dramatically. “Our faculty mobilized to make that happen,” she added.
Regarding DEI concerns, Mr. Huang recently created WIU’s first-ever Anti-Racism Task Force and the university board added a new Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and will hire a director to lead it. Mr. Huang called it “the go-to place for students of color to go” to find “a helping hand.”
Student recruitment and retention remain top priorities for both campuses, which have reported relatively stable enrollment numbers over the past few years. That’s worth celebrating, Mr. Huang said. “I’ve been saying very loudly for a lot of people in higher education, being flat is the new up,” he said.
Even better news, he said, is that spring enrollment numbers have grown.
The increased enrollment also is a result of aggressive recruitment efforts that have increased the number of regional students and dramatically boosted international student enrollment. The number of international students enrolled in Fall 2021 was 658, which broke the old record enrollment of 574 students set in 1987. By Spring 2022, that figure had risen to 818.
The influx of foreign students last fall also helped new entering graduate student enrollment increase by 36.7%, while total graduate enrollment (new and existing) increased 26% to 2,061 graduate students in that same period.
Mr. Huang hopes that those enrollment increases plus a recent 3% increase in WIU’s tuition rates – which will remain one of the lowest in the state – combined with a proposed 5% hike in state funding will allow the university to provide faculty and staff with the first raises they’ve had in years. After all, Mr. Huang said, they are Western’s most important assets.
“No. 1, the university really has great faculty and staff,” he said. “Great organizations are made by great people, not vice versa.”