UNIVERSITY PARK | Governors State University will admit its first freshman class in August 2014, thanks to the Illinois Board of Higher Education's approval Tuesday of its proposal to add lower division programming to its curriculum.
"GSU's decision to admit freshmen beginning in 2014 is historic and transformative," said Elaine P. Maimon, GSU president. "By designing a state-of-the-art freshman program, GSU will increase its already significant commitment to the Illinois Public Agenda. For the first time in our 42-year history, we are now poised to serve Illinois as a full, comprehensive, regional university."
GSU is the only exclusively upper-division and graduate public university in the Midwest, with coursework beginning at the junior level. While the establishment of upper-division universities was a national trend in the 1960s, most of these institutions are now full-service institutions.
GSU's decision to become a full, four-year university, is an active response to the region's need for new options for quality, affordable public higher education, according to a news release from the university.
"Illinois will increase the percentage of its citizens with bachelor's degrees only if we create new, high quality pathways to degree completion," Maimon said.
The university will develop a group of 270 full-time, day-time freshmen students to be admitted in fall 2014. GSU projects the eventual enrollment of as many as 625 freshman students each year. Indiana residents admitted to GSU already receive Illinois in-state tuition, and the same will be true of incoming freshmen, a university spokeswoman said.
Recently released statewide data on high school student admission to four-year public universities and community colleges have shown clear demand for public higher education in Chicago's south suburban region as well as throughout the rest of the state, according to the release.
Officials say the university has the infrastructure to support a freshman class. A majority of the university's courses are held during the evening to accommodate its large constituency of nontraditional students. Even with GSU's growing population of full-time undergraduate, daytime students, classroom space is still widely available in the morning and early afternoon.
Freshmen will have two pathways to degree completion. They will have the option of direct admission to GSU as a freshman or admission to a community college with a plan to complete the associate degree before transfer to GSU or to another university under GSU's existing Dual Degree Program.
"We are gaining national recognition for our Dual Degree Program with eight local community colleges," Maimon said. "Community college students enrolled in the DDP are guaranteed admission to GSU. They also receive dedicated transfer advising, a tuition lock-in and access to the GSU Promise and other scholarships."
Maimon emphasized that GSU can be a model 21st century university. The university serves students of all ages, nontraditional and traditional, working adults and recent high school graduates; offers programs at all times of the day; and provides strong incentives to community college students to follow a seamless pathway from a community college associate degree to a GSU bachelor's degree.
Governors State's student body is 47 percent minority students and a large proportion of first-generation college students, the release states.
"The addition of underclassmen will increase the diversity in the age of our students," noted Maimon. "Freshmen will learn valuable lessons from our nontraditional and returning students and vice versa."
The university is involved in several other major developments that will add to its ability to serve the educational needs of the region.
• GSU has made initial plans to open student housing for undergraduate and graduate students in fall 2014, when the first freshmen arrive.
• In October, the university began the $22.6 million, three-year renovation of its science facilities. The project will create state-of-the-art laboratories, enabling the university to improve its preparation of students for careers in health care, computer science, scientific and mathematics research, and science and math education.
The expansion of GSU's academic programs has support from within and without the university. The admission of freshmen has been endorsed by the GSU Faculty Senate, Student Senate, Civil Service Senate, and the Alumni Board, the Student Advisory Council of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, and the village of University Park. In addition several of GSU's regional community college and university partners wrote letters of support to the Illinois Board of Higher Education.