UI president plans to push for full state funding

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URBANA — After two years of partial funding, the University of Illinois will try once again for a full state appropriation in fiscal 2018, which it hasn’t seen since 2015.

But the UI is also doubling down on its efforts for a multiyear budget arrangement with the state, with plans to announce legislation next week that would provide five years of guaranteed funding in exchange for meeting certain educational benchmarks.

The university has lost more than $750 million in state funding over the last two years, UI President Tim Killeen noted during his annual meeting with the faculty Monday.

“That’s three-quarters of a billion dollars. That’s a lot,” Killeen told a couple of faculty members lamenting cuts in their units. “We are under huge stress, and Rome is burning around us. These are not normal times.”

At the UI Board of Trustees’ meeting on Nov. 10, officials will roll out the proposed new contract with the state, which has been rechristened the Investment Performance and Accountability Initiative, Killeen said. Members of the UI’s bipartisan legislative caucus will be on hand.

In exchange for meeting specific benchmarks — such as limiting tuition to the rate of inflation, providing adequate financial aid or achieving certain graduation rates — the UI would receive guaranteed funding for five years, regulatory relief and procurement reform, which faculty have pushed to speed up the process of purchasing research equipment and other materials.

“Imagine what we could do if we had that kind of predictable environment,” Killeen said.

The plan is to report the UI’s progress on those fronts each year, with information posted on the UI’s website so that individual legislators can check, he said.

“In essence, it’s a proposed statute that will put into law an agreement between the state and the university (about) what we do for the state, the taxpayer base, and what the state does for us,” Killeen said.

Killeen, who was involved in a similar effort at the State University of New York, said it will be the “most comprehensive such compact in higher education in the country.”

For now, the UI has prepared a fiscal 2018 general state funding request totaling $662.1 million, equal to its last full year of funding in 2015. The 2018 fiscal year begins next July 1. Trustees will review the request next week, and it would then be forwarded to the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

The ongoing state budget impasse resulted in stopgap appropriations that provided the UI with about $180 million in fiscal 2016 (27 percent of its previous funding) and another $350 million for 2017 (about 55 percent).

The shortfall has led to tens of millions of dollars in cuts at the Urbana campus alone, and it’s still about $190 million short for the two fiscal years combined.

But Killeen noted that the UI has managed to avoid “draconian closures of departments or massive layoffs.” The university is also working to protect employees’ health benefits and hopes to provide a midyear pay raise, he noted.

The state’s stopgap funding has helped, he said. The UI has billed the state for nearly $300 million in unpaid bills that go back to fiscal 2015, and it’s received about $150 million so far, said Walter Knorr, vice president and chief financial officer.

“The checks are arriving. I know because I stand out on the porch waiting for it to take it to the ATM,” Killeen said.

Despite the ongoing budget stress, Killeen praised faculty for their “exemplary work,” noting that the university has more students than ever before and citing some top faculty awards this past year.

“It is not under-appreciated how much of the burden falls on your shoulders,” he said.

He said the university still has “financial strength,” noting that the UI’s credit ratings remain several notches higher than the state’s.

He also said public higher education’s position in the state budget negotiations is better than a year ago.

“It’s not on the cutting room floor,” he said.

In other news

— Capital budget: The UI’s 2018 budget request also seeks money for a list of six high-priority building projects totaling $414.4 million, “one of our highest priorities this year,” according to Executive Vice President Barbara Wilson, who oversees academic affairs and budgetary matters.

Topping the list is $60 million for long-deferred repairs and renovations across the UI’s three campuses, including $38 million for Urbana. Wilson estimated the true backlog of deferred maintenance at more than $2 billion, as the state has not provided a higher education capital budget since 2010.

The other projects include: nearly $65 million for a renovation/addition to the Art and Design Building in Urbana; $150 million for an Advanced Pharmaceutical Innovation Institute in Chicago; $43 million toward the long-planned renovation of Altgeld Hall and Illini Hall; $14 million to replace the Feed Mill in Urbana; and $14 million for a STEM building in Springfield.

— Enrollment update: Killeen will report next week on his plans for an enrollment expansion over the next five to 10 years, saying “we might well be on a path to 92,000” students.

At the Urbana campus, that’s expected to come through online master’s degree programs, rather than increases in on-campus undergraduate enrollment. Currently, the UI system has about 81,000 students on its three main campuses and online programs.

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UI president plans to push for full state funding

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