WIU President Jack Thomas

Western Illinois University President Jack Thomas discusses the accomplishments and future goals of the President's Executive Institute during a news conference Tuesday in Moline.

Fueled by innovation and determination, Western Illinois University has advanced its campuses in Macomb and Moline despite "very challenging" financial times the past two years, university president Jack Thomas said Tuesday on the Quad-Cities campus. 

Thomas and other university leaders visited both campuses to provide the first update on the President's Executive Institute and Western's strategic plan. The institute was piloted in the fall of 2016 amid the state budget crisis to promote "new ways of thinking at WIU," he told an audience of nearly 50 faculty and staff and Quad-City business and community leaders. 

He outlined four main goals of the institute: Stabilizing and growing enrollment; Recruiting and retaining a ''world-class, diverse faculty"; Continuing to improve student retention and graduation rates; and advancing the university's national academic rankings.

According to Thomas, many of the 2017 accomplishments already are addressing those goals. Among the milestones have been providing hybrid educational opportunities such as a new dual-enrollment program at Cambridge High School; expanding partnerships in the community and with area businesses; and other new outreach programs. WIU's Military Task Force is working to expand education opportunities for students in the military, including active or retired military.   

Joe Rives, Western's vice president for Quad-Cities and planning, credited the institute with helping the university team identify "new ways in our new fiscal reality of working together with the external community." He said the effort also supports Q2030, the Quad-Cities Chamber's regional action plan. 

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"A lot has been done already and it shows the strength, determination and grit of our students, faculty and staff," said Rives, who co-chairs the institute with Becky Paulsen, Western's director of business engagement and outreach.

Paulsen told the audience that the university also has deepened its relationships with area businesses, which are providing more internships and experiences for students. "Our students are being aggressively recruited," she said. 

Thomas said Western leaders will testify Thursday before the Illinois Senate and hope to secure "adequate and predictable funding" for the university. "We're pleased to start the year off with a budget. You can't imagine how tough it has been the past two years."

In the fall of 2018, Western students also will be able to complete several new majors all online in the areas of: accountancy, anthropology, economics, general studies, fire protection services, fire science, law enforcement and justice administration, as well as manufacturing. Thomas also announced plans to find more prominent locations for the College of Honors at both campuses.

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