Higher education hasn’t received state funding outside its pension contributions
for this fiscal year, and Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration is proposing a
fiscal 2017 budget that calls for a roughly 20 percent reduction in spending.
“Not to state the obvious, but we’re in a bind and the immediate solution is to
get us a budget for this year,” Jim Applegate, executive director of the
Illinois Board of Higher Education, told a state Senate appropriations
Illinois, he said, “is on the verge of dismantling a well-regarded higher
Since 2010, state support of public colleges and universities has declined by
about $1.1 billion when adjusted for inflation, Applegate and other officials
Applegate said state government should commit to a three-year, stable funding
level while the higher education systems commit to increasing efficiency and
Senators, particularly Republican members of the panel, focused on what Illinois
can do to bring down its higher education costs — or at least put more dollars
in the classroom.
Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, asked how pension obligation affects the
amount of money that makes it to classrooms.
Of about $4.1 billion appropriated for higher education in fiscal 2015, more
than half went to pensions.
Pension obligations are “literally sucking the air” out of higher education
funding, Applegate said. Had the state kept up with its pension payments,
leaving itself in a position to mind only current obligations, today’s crisis
would be more manageable, he added.
“Not a dime of that (pension) money helps a student get a degree,” Applegate
GOP senators also stressed they want both lawmakers and top educators to focus
on reducing administration costs, saving money through procurement reform and
lowering workers’ compensation costs.
Further, the governor’s proposal would shift more of the pension burden from the
state to the universities.
University presidents testifying in the non-voting session said they’d work with
lawmakers and the governor, but they also painted a picture of an education
system in deep distress.
“We cannot do what we do without a consistent and predictable level of state
support,” said Randy Dunn, president of Southern Illinois University.
[to top of second column]
Dunn has outlined more than $46.5 million in reductions that he
says SIU would need to make under the governor’s fiscal 2017 budget.
They include cuts of $22.8 million at SIU-Carbondale, $14.1 million
at SIU-Edwardsville and $8.8 million at the medical school in
The spending cuts at Carbondale alone would include 180 faculty,
administrative and civil service positions, elimination of some
academic programs, a reduction of about 400 classes and the
elimination of about 300 student jobs.
“These cuts … are going to have to take place if we can’t figure
out this new covenant and have a budget for ’17 that makes us
viable,” Dunn said.
The SIU system, the state’s second-largest after the University of
Illinois network, “is not going to close,” Dunn said. “We may look
like a very different institution two or three or four years down
the line, depending on what happens to state support.”
Further, “The scope of programs and the level of opportunity that we
provide to students could be very drastically scaled back,” he
Sen. Matt Murphy of Palatine, the GOP’s deputy leader, said
lawmakers understand the problems but changes have to be made.
“We’ve got to do things that bring your cost of doing business down,
that bring everybody else’s cost of doing business down, so that we
can create more taxpayers, make it easier for you to operate, and
put us in a position where we can consistently and reliably fund
you,” Murphy said.
Bills are in play this session to help address the lack of funding
in higher education.
Democratic-backed legislation to authorize $3.7 billion spending
this fiscal year for higher education and some human services has
cleared the House.
But the administration has indicated the governor will veto the
two-bill package if the Senate passes it. The GOP argues the money
to cover the spending doesn’t exist and says the state is already
sitting on a $7 billion stack of unpaid bills.
The GOP is pushing its own legislative proposal, which it says would
provide $1.6 billion for higher education. Democrats argue that plan
would give the governor lone, unprecedented power over state
budgeting and spending decisions.
The Senate was in session Thursday but did not take up final work on
substantive legislation. The full chamber met for only about an
Click here to respond to the editor about this article