State budget impasse puts colleges in financial bind

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BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — The Prairie State’s four agriculture colleges remain strong with high quality students and faculty, but the dark cloud of the General Assembly’s lack of support and enrollment challenges continues to hover.

Rob Rhykerd, Illinois State University Department of Agriculture chair and professor of soil science, gave the hard numbers at the recent Illinois Farm Bureau-hosted agricultural legislative roundtable in his campus update.

Rhykerd gave data from ISU, adding that those trend lines probably are similar at Southern Illinois University, University of Illinois and Western Illinois University.

“Some of these numbers do look ugly, but I want to emphasize that despite these budget issues our universities are really committed to our missions. The faculty is committed to teaching excellence, high quality research and impactful service (through Extension). These are common threads among all of us,” Rhykerd said.

“Our universities continue to provide the best quality programs possible with the resources available. We are really good stewards with state resources, the students are getting great education, we’re doing good research, but there’s some suffering going on.”

The Illinois General Assembly did not have budgets in fiscal years 2016 and 2017, but did provide some stop-gap money for universities. There has yet to be a budget for 2018.

In the 1980s, about 80 percent of ISU’s budget revenue was from state funds. That has since dwindled.

ISU received over $81.4 million from the state in 2007 — 26.7 percent of the total operating budget — and support reached $85 million in 2010 before being reduced by 6 percent to $79.8 million in 2011.

State support declined a bit each year after that until 2016 when ISU’s state appropriations dropped 71 percent to $20.9 million, 5 percent of the total budget. It was increased to about $38.3 million in 2017, 9.3 percent of the total budget.

Low Rankings

The Illinois legislature’s spending per student from 2008 to 2016 ranks 49th in the nation just ahead of Arizona. During that time, the Illinois’ per student spending dropped 54 percent.

Of the neighboring states, Indiana is down 5.8 percent, Iowa is down 21.7 percent and Missouri is down 22.2 percent.

Most states turned that trend around from 2015 to 2016 while Illinois fell to 50th with a 37 percent decline. Indiana increased funding 5.6 percent from 2015 to 2016, Iowa was unchanged and Missouri increased by 0.2 percent.

A decline is state support has pushed universities to increase tuitions to make up at least some of the difference.

ISU has increased tuition from about $8,000 in 2006 to now over $15,000 a year. Out-of-state tuition during that same time increased from just under $15,000 to about $20,000.

“We’re having to do this. We have to get revenue from somewhere to the keep the doors open at the university,” Rhykerd said.

Rhykerd ran down the repercussions of the budget challenge, including departmental cuts, workforce reduction — 120 positions from employees who left have not been replaced — deferred maintenance, recruiting students/faculty/administrators, pressure to increase enrollment, pressure on faculty to receive external grants with indirect costs and increase fundraising and partnering with industry.

Long-term strategic planning also is a challenge.

“If they would just tell us where we’re going to be in five years, we can plan for that, but going along and all of a sudden having a 70 percent reduction, how do you prepare for that? It makes it extremely difficult for university administrators,” Rhykerd said.

Job Openings

There is some good news in a U.S. Department of Agriculture report through Purdue University that said from 2015 to 2020 that estimated almost 58,000 jobs will open up annually in ag. Nationwide, there are only graduate 35,400 annually with degrees in food, agriculture, natural resources and environmental studies.

“We have an opportunity in agriculture. This is a good place to be with the demand for our students,” Rhykerd said.

High school enrollments are decreasing, resulting in the number of graduates from the 2008-2009 to the 2019-2020 school years in the Midwest to decline 5 percent to 15 percent, putting more pressure on universities to recruit new students from a smaller pool.

In addition to fewer students, Illinois has a net loss of 14,000 students each year to universities in other states.

“At ISU’s tuition rate, this is $200 million in tuition that’s going to Missouri, Iowa, Indiana and other states. That’s a real opportunity. If we can reduce that trend and just keep those students in state, that will help us out a lot,” Rhykerd said.

“Despite these challenges, our ag universities do remain strong. Students remain competitive in national contests. Our faculty at all of our institutions continues to receive national recognition for teaching, research and service. But there is a need to develop a strategic recruiting plan to address our human capital needs here in Illinois, and that will also help us with strong enrollments in our departments.”

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June 26, 2017 at 04:36PM

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State budget impasse puts colleges in financial bind

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