DWN Fall Faculty Forum: Who do you know?

By Kris Gallagher, associate editor, Alumni Communications

As chair of the Faculty Advisory Council of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, Marie Donovan regularly walks the hallways of the state capital, buttonholing legislators to discuss issues that impact higher education. Donovan, who is also an associate professor of early childhood teacher education in the College of Education, is particularly worried about the rising percentage of Illinois high school seniors who choose to attend college outside the state. In fact, Illinois is now the second-largest net loss leader, behind New Jersey.

At DWN’s Fall Faculty Forum, Donovan spoke about trying to talk with a state senator about this issue. He shrugged it off, saying “Let some other state pay to educate them. It’s not our problem.”

Ah, but it is, Donovan told attendees. She expanded on the issues discussed by DePaul President A. Gabriel Esteban, PhD, during his State of the University address in September 2017. Demographically, the number of college-ready potential undergraduates is declining, while enrollment in graduate degree programs is dropping at most universities. Budget issues are exacerbated when more students leave Illinois, leading to program cuts, layoffs, reductions in service and more. More importantly, it becomes harder to fulfill the Vincentian mission of providing a quality education to students on the margins.


“What small things can each of us do to help turn this around?” Donovan asked participants. “Who do you know, how can you influence them, how can you advocate for students to stay in Illinois?”

Participants brainstormed a variety of ideas, including:

  • Talking with teens and their parents about the importance of attending college
  • Talking with teens and their parents about ways to make college more affordable, including taking general education requirements at a community college and transferring to a larger institution to complete their degree
  • Reminding teens and parents to think about transportation costs and challenges when they are considering universities
  • Coaching parents of teens on how to expand their search for financial aid
  • Find ways to strengthen support for at-risk students already enrolled, increasing retention
  • Lobbying legislators to allow for student-loan consolidation programs
  • Asking everyone they talk with, “What are you going to do?”

In closing, Donovan noted that many small efforts lead to larger changes, a phenomenon often described as the “butterfly effect.” (Mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz coined the term after discovering that minor changes in conditions, which he likened to the flapping of butterfly wings, influenced the formation of tornadoes.) “Flutter your butterfly wings,” Donovan said. “Decide what you can do and do it.”

Faculty Forums provide an opportunity for faculty to share their research or present on a topic on interest, and are open to the entire university community.