Still waiting: University funding cloudy as talk turns to FY18

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NORMAL — As Illinois State University officials prepare to testify in Springfield on Thursday about their fiscal year 2018 budget request, they are still waiting to see what will happen with funding for the current fiscal year.

The Illinois House approved a “lifeline” measure on Thursday that would bring ISU’s state appropriation for this fiscal year to about two-thirds of what it was in fiscal year 2015 — the last year Illinois had a full-year budget.

However, not all universities can say the same. Students at Northeastern Illinois University will not be attending class on Tuesday, Wednesday or May 1. Classes were canceled in a money-saving move at the 10,000-student school in Chicago; the campus was also closed over spring break.

Dietz discussed the lifeline measure on Thursday during a weekly talk with fellow presidents and chancellors from state universities.

“We’d like to have a longer term plan than just one or two fiscal years,” said Dietz. “Right now, this is the only game in town. … Until a better plan comes along, we’re supportive of this measure.”

The lifeline measure would allocate $9.5 million to ISU on top of the $38.3 million it received in the so-called “stopgap 2” budget that was designed to get schools though Dec. 31.

That total of $47.8 million, assuming the measure makes it into law, compares to $72.2 million ISU received in fiscal year 2015.

In a budget update presented to faculty and staff on March 28, Greg Alt, who retired this month as ISU’s vice president for finance and planning, said there is more optimism this year than last because “there are actually some discussions going on with the budget.”

But still, Alt said, it is “not much better than going down a foggy road and turning on the headlights. There’s still a lot of uncertainty.”

“It’s kind of like that Bizarro World. We talk about the fiscal ’18 budget and we don’t have a ’16 or ’17 budget,” he said.

When Dietz speaks this week to the House Higher Education Appropriations Committee about fiscal year 2018, he said, “The message is going to be clear. We are a state university and we need state funds to continue to be a state-funded institution.”

ISU has nine national rankings showing academic quality, including graduation and retention rates in the top 10 percent and a loan default rate far below the national average, noted Dietz.

“We’ve done our part,” Dietz said. “We’ve hit our mark. We’d like the state to do the same.”

One reason tuition has climbed at state universities is the decline in state support, say university officials.

Alt noted that, in the heydays of the 1960s, for every dollar of tuition the university received, it got $4 in state revenue. Fifty years later, for every dollar of tuition, the state chips in just 39 cents, he said.

At its meeting in October, the ISU board of trustees approved an appropriation request of $79.5 million, a 10 percent increase over fiscal 2015.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education recommends supporting public universities at a “foundation level” equal to fiscal 2015’s appropriation of $1.2 billion. The governor’s budget recommends funding higher education at 90 percent of its fiscal year 2015 level.

The IBHE is also recommending a $100 million increase for the Monetary Award Program (MAP) in fiscal 2018F, which would bring the financial-need grant program to $473.3 million.

The governor has proposed a $36.5 million increase.

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Still waiting: University funding cloudy as talk turns to FY18

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