University students detail pain of budget stalemate

Illinois university students, professors and staff members pleaded with Illinois House members Thursday to get back to the business of funding state higher education, as legislators prepare to return to Springfield to try to break a historic gridlock over the state budget.

In detailed and emotional testimony in an hourslong hearing, public and private university students and employees told House Higher Education Appropriations Committee members that the nearly two years without regular state funding has driven them to the brink of financial failure, jeopardized their ability to complete their degrees, prematurely ended careers and threatened to shutter schools and programs.

Illinois has been without a budget since July 2015, and Illinois public colleges have not received any state funding since a stopgap bill in June 2016. The Monetary Assistance Program, which provides grants for low-income students, also has not been funded, forcing many schools to try to absorb the costs so students do not default on their tuition expenses.

“You are dismantling higher education in Illinois,” said Zaiga Thorson, a professor at Black Hawk College in Moline. “You are draining Illinois of one of its most valuable resources: its people.”

Deion Owens, a senior studying education at Roosevelt University in Chicago, said he has drained his savings account, switched from part-time to full-time work and moved to a cheaper apartment in a blighted neighborhood to be able to afford school, primarily because his $5,000 Golden Apple scholarship was not financed.

Golden Apple scholarships, like MAP grants, both receive state support through the Illinois Student Assistance Commission.

“People say to keep your eye on the prize, but it’s so hard when the state of Illinois keeps taking our glasses,” Owens said.

Amy Sticha, who studies biology at Northeastern Illinois University, said she lost two weeks’ pay from her part-time university job and 12 days of classes during two campuswide furloughs this spring. That lost classroom time is particularly problematic for science majors like her, who require a specific number of hours of lab work to complete their courses and seek jobs in the field.

“Morale is very, very low. Everyone is stressed, everyone is anxious, everyone I know has a backup plan out of state in Wisconsin or Indiana or Michigan,” Sticha said. “No one I know really has faith. No one thinks this is going to be resolved in a way where we aren’t thrown to the side.”

Three Chicago State University students discussed how in addition to the financial and academic challenges, frustration is mounting from a sense of students and universities being used as political pawns.

“The cynicism is real,” said Charles Preston, who graduated in May and who frequently helped organize student and community demonstrations about the budget debate. “We’ve reached out to politicians who laughed in our faces. We don’t feel like we’re politically represented or trust (that) our voices are being heard.”

Faculty and staff members from the schools also testified to the growing damage.

Kimberly Archer, a music professor and head of the faculty association at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, discussed how the lack of a budget means health insurance provider reimbursements are not being made.

SIUE is “hemorrhaging” faculty, Archer said, because they can no longer rely on that essential benefit or use their salaries to fill the gaps.

The state legislature ended its regular session May 31 without sending a budget to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk. The governor on Thursday called back assembly members for special session for the final 10 days of June amid mounting pressure to end the stalemate.

The fiscal year ends June 30.

“We eat and starve based on your decision,” Illinois State University senior Tia Dunlap said.

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via Home – Chicago Tribune

June 15, 2017 at 07:31PM

University students detail pain of budget stalemate

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