Sounding the Alarm: Thriving higher education system needed to create strong economy in Illinois

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One could argue the state’s nearly two-year budget impasse has been most visible at the state’s public universities and community colleges.

Students aren’t getting their MAP grants. Faculty, staff and administrators are being laid off. There is concern one or more of the state’s public universities might shut its doors. In just one day in April, the bond ratings of six universities were downgraded, as rating agency S&P determined the uncertainty of state funding for higher education made them a bad risk for investors.

Perhaps most embarrassing was this: In April, a national report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers association on higher education finances in 2016 spotlighted Illinois as an outlier. That status was cemented due to per-student funding falling by 80 percent year over year, from $10,986 to $2,196, while enrollment at public institutions plunged by 46,000 students (or 11 percent).

Illinois was so bad that if you include it in the report, overall public support for higher education funding fell by 1.8 percent. Remove the Land of Lincoln, and overall support for higher education nationally increased by 3.2 percent.

Illinois needs outstanding higher education facilities that produce knockout research, breathtaking innovation and graduates eager to conquer the world. To do that, universities and colleges need focused strategic plans — and that is only going to happen when there is stability that comes from having a state budget.  

As in other sectors, pension reform (see Thursday’s editorial of our Sounding the Alarm series for more) is key to freeing up more resources for instruction. A study of Illinois by the State Higher Education Executive Officers found that in fiscal year 2015, retirement appropriations consumed 44.3 percent of the total funding for higher education in Illinois. In 2007, it had been just 10.3 percent.

That’s a depressing and sobering shift. In fiscal year 2000, about $218.2 million in state funding was dedicated to pensions, according to the Illinois Board of Higher Education, and $2.13 billion went to operations funding. Fast forward to fiscal year 2015 (the last year there was a permanent state budget), and $1.55 billion went to pay off pension debt — nearly as much as the $1.95 billion the state spent on the actual teaching, research and support operations.

And who has borne the brunt of that shift? Students and their parents have forked over more to help bridge the difference. Average tuition and fees at public universities in Illinois were $4,786 in fiscal year 2002. They had more than tripled to $13,462 by fiscal year 2015, according to the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

The restructuring of the state’s pension debt will free up significant funds to actually be spent on instructional costs. So would making all new hires go into a self-managed plan retirement (already an option in the State University Retirement System), and allowing any current employees the option of switching to such a plan.

But stable funding is just a start for retooling our institutions of higher education. It’s time for a thorough examination of what they should be and a commitment to making our institutions centers of achievement that spur economic growth in Illinois.

Most of the four-year public universities in Illinois were established as regional education centers. They offered similar programs, with the thinking that students in those areas wouldn’t have to travel far for their education. That made sense 100 years ago when traveling was more difficult, but if the number of students who are heading out of state for college is any indication, they are willing to travel if it means access to excellent programs.

Universities are, and need to remain, the economic drivers of their home communities. Figures shared by the Illinois Coalition to Invest in Higher Education show that colleges and universities in Illinois employ 175,000 people statewide and generate more than $50 billion in economic activity. For every $1 the state spends on higher ed, it gets $25 back. It’s an outstanding value.

But each campus should have designated areas of specialization. In today’s specialized world, universities must adapt and put aside the notion that they can be all things to all people. Program offerings should be evaluated, and under-enrolled programs must be pruned, allowing institutions to focus on their strongest offerings.

Doing that might mean revamping the structure of the schools: Does each one need a board, or should we perhaps mirror our neighbor to the north? The University of Wisconsin system oversees 13 four-year universities and 13 freshman-sophomore UW Colleges campuses, which provides efficiencies in administration. Illinois needs to examine that. A 2015 report by the Illinois Senate Democratic Caucus found that the number of full-time administrative staff at public universities ballooned by 31.1 percent from 2004 to 2010. But during the same time period, the number of full-time faculty increased by just 1.8 percent, and there was only a 2.3 percent increase in part- and full-time students.

The last two years of belt tightening in the absence of a budget and funding have likely changed those numbers, and we understand the definition of “administration” in Illinois needs to be refined as it can include positions that no one would consider administration.

We aren’t ready to recommend a UW System of management — but we believe it’s a question that needs to be answered, and the Illinois Board of Higher Education should start that conversation now as a means toward setting a solid plan for the system’s future.

But make no mistake — the governor and General Assembly need to resolve the budget crisis and make the investment in higher ed that Illinois needs to make it a competitive, healthy state. 

— Coming Sunday in the State Journal-Register Editorial Board’s Sounding the Alarm series: Changes to taxes and consolidating governments needed to get Illinois’ fiscal ship in order.

About this series

Illinois is the only state in America without a budget, a failure that digs it deeper into debt each day. But the lack of a budget is not the only serious problem that the state’s leaders must take action on. “Sounding the Alarm,” is an eight-day special report that the Register Star and The Journal-Standard are publishing in conjunction with their sister paper in Springfield, The State Journal-Register.

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May 19, 2017 at 09:39AM

Sounding the Alarm: Thriving higher education system needed to create strong economy in Illinois

Small And Mid-Size Public Universities Feeling Brunt Of Budget Stalemate

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Higher education has been among the areas feeling the state budget impasse as funding has been cut. It has forced some schools to reduce classes, lay off employees and, in some cases, close for several days. But a review of enrollment indicates small and mid-sized public universities are taking a double hit. “We found our large schools, our flagship schools, they are experiencing modest increases in enrollment over the past couple of years. And that’s on trend with some other states,” said Sarah Brune, Executive Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. She said the group conducted the study to see the effects of the impasse on the institutions. The small and mid-sized schools are seeing declines, meaning not only less state funds, but also fewer tuition dollars. Over both 2 year and 5 year time frames, some schools have seen big drops in the number of students who attend. “We wanted to look into that and use enrollment, which is only one of the many factors you can

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May 16, 2017 at 01:41AM

Small And Mid-Size Public Universities Feeling Brunt Of Budget Stalemate

NPR Illinois sets state budget forum Wednesday in Champaign

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URBANA — NPR Illinois will host a state budget forum featuring former Gov. Jim Edgar and University of Illinois President Tim Killeen at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the I Hotel and Conference Center in Champaign.

It is the second of 11 planned free events planned around the state open to the public to talk about how different regions have been affected by the state budget impasse.

The forums sponsored by AARP and NPR Illinois (WUIS in Springfield) are a chance to hear directly from Illinois residents about their experience without a state budget and panelists’ views on these effects, said the radio station. The first event took place last month in Springfield.

Moderated by Brian Moline, the local host of “Morning Edition” on WILL, panelists for the Champaign forum will be Edgar; Killeen; Christopher Mooney, director of the University of Illinois’ Institute of Government and Public Affairs; and Rosanna Marquez, Illinois state president for AARP.

Edgar, a Republican who served as governor from 1991 to 1999, has been critical of current Gov. Bruce Rauner for failing to coming to an agreement with the Legislature on an operating budget for the state.

NPR Illinois has aggregated its coverage of the effects of the budget impasse under the “Past Due” banner at nprillinois.org.

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May 13, 2017 at 12:08AM

NPR Illinois sets state budget forum Wednesday in Champaign

My View: Illinois must invest in higher education to grow its economy

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Our state is on a historic quest for a better economy, for a better tomorrow. Both political parties are adamant that Illinois must do more to create jobs, keep Illinoisans from fleeing the state and give our children hope that our best days are yet to come.

And yet every day, the longer the state’s budget impasse continues, the more one catalyst to that growth we all wish for pays a serious price: our college and university campuses around Illinois.

In his latest budget address, Gov. Bruce Rauner again proposed cuts to higher education. He called for a small increase in funds for the Monetary Award Program, but MAP grants haven’t been funded this year. The last two years of devastating funding cuts to MAP grants and operating funds for Illinois colleges and universities have been only an extreme example of 15 years of defunding, devaluing and dismantling this state’s once nationally ranked higher education system.

Higher education has its perception problems: charges of inefficiency, duplicative programs and administrative bloat. But try telling the leaders of many communities around the state that those concerns are worth the costs of draconian funding cuts.

In Bloomington, the local impact is enormous from three local colleges and universities: $725 million, with more than 4,500 jobs. Just south in Decatur, nearly $200 million is generated from Millikin University and Richland Community College. From Rockford to Carbondale, Quincy to Champaign, and Springfield to the Metro East, colleges and universities drive local economies and prepare our next generation of leaders and workforce. Yet the longer this budget impasse runs, the more paralyzed our system becomes – and the more the costs of this crisis grow.

It’s too easy to ignore higher education’s value and benefits, because we take them for granted. As the state has cut more than $1 billion from 2000-15 – 36.4 percent – in higher education funding and aid for students, we fail to appreciate how much a role colleges and universities play to provide higher average salaries, better health, longer employment, more tax support for local services, and much more.

As the House, Senate and governor debate approving a full-year budget or more short-term help through stopgap/lifeline solutions, higher education withers away. It’s not that our policymakers can’t recognize the need for urgent action when economic crisis rears its head.

When Exelon, Sears and CME needed help, or when other businesses asked for incentives to stay and expand here, those calls were heard and addressed. Why not higher education? After all, it’s a mammoth employer: $50 billion in economic impact annually, with 800,000 students and 175,000 employees in more than 200 locations.

As the discussion at the Capitol centers on Illinois’ economic recovery and building a stronger workforce and tax base, slashing higher ed is hypocritical, counterproductive and digging our hole deeper. Students are choosing out-of-state schools or skipping college altogether.

Others are deciding not to come back after going away for school. Talented faculty and staff are laid off and leaving for better opportunities elsewhere. And with each blow, the recovery takes much longer than the initial damage.

Until the trend in funding for higher education is reversed, the promise of a better Illinois is an illusion. A state without a plan is a state with a very dim future.

David W. Tretter,  is president of the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities, and a leader of the Illinois Coalition to Invest in Higher Education

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May 12, 2017 at 05:25AM

My View: Illinois must invest in higher education to grow its economy

SIU Board of Trustees approve SIUE loan to Carbondale campus

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The SIU Board of Trustees on Wednesday passed a plan to loan money from SIU-Edwardsville to the cash-strapped Carbondale campus so it can continue operations.

During the meeting in Edwardsville, the trustees voted to approve the loan that will come from SIUE’s unrestricted reserve funds.

University officials have said the loan would be repaid over the course of 10 years. But in his System Connection, a column emailed to faculty and staff, SIU President Randy Dunn on Wednesday said the recommendation in front of the board will set a borrowing cap, as well as a “pledge that the first obligation on the replenishment of funds from SIUC will be to SIUE once a state budget is in place.”

The university president said SIUC’s financial staff projects the campus will go into deficit in late May without the loan.

During a board meeting in early April, in which the trustees delayed the loan, Dunn delivered a similar message, saying the borrowing plan will prevent SIUC from going “into the red.”

Faculty representatives from SIUE voiced concerns with the loan during the public comments portion of the April 6 meeting. Those present took issue with the proposal for the Carbondale campus to borrow from the other university’s “rainy day fund.”

Kim Archer, an associate professor of music at SIUE and vice president of the university’s faculty association, likened the “unchecked borrowing” at the Carbondale campus to an addiction and urged the board to set the proposal aside.

“They burned through much of their own reserves, apparently they burned through a good deal of the system’s savings, then they tapped the medical school dry and now they’re coming after us,” she said. “We say: We thought ahead. We were proactive.”

David Johnson, president of SIUC’s faculty association, said he sympathizes with the frustration expressed by SIUE employees. He asked the board to spare university programs amid the impending budget cuts, using the board’s decision to approve a $2 million purchase of athletic gear as an example of its need to prioritize its academic mission.

“I am morally certain that if the shoe were on the other foot, and SIUC was called upon to support SIUE, there would angry voices raised in Carbondale,” Johnson said.

After the vote to delay the loan, Vice-Chair Phil Gilbert said he understood the reluctance from SIUE constituent groups to move forward with the loan, but called it the only financial option available “for the survival of SIUC.”

In late April, SIUE’s Faculty Senate adopted a resolution to say it opposes a strategy “that jeopardizes the fiscal and structural well-being of our university [and the SIU system] to support operations” at SIUC “that are unsustainable in their current configuration.”

About two weeks later, the Senate’s executive committee said it wants to see SIUC flourish, but called on administrators to create a new identity for the campus.

“It is distressing for the SIUE faculty to witness the desperate situation confronting our colleagues at SIUC,” the union’s leaders said in a statement. “We sincerely hope that our partner university will respond to the urgent need to employ strategic budget decisions as a means to create a distinctive new mix of academic programs and a new institutional identity for SIUC.”

The Carbondale campus has used about $83 million of unrestricted reserve funds for continuing operations since the beginning of the state’s historic impasse in July 2015 between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the state Legislature, including House Speaker Michael Madigan. That figure includes $21 million in cuts the campus has already implemented, Dunn said at the April meeting.

The university president unveiled the plan for a loan in his late March announcement informing the Carbondale campus to cut at least $30 million in spending from its $450 million budget.

After Dunn’s announcement, interim Chancellor Brad Colwell, who is one of three finalists for the permanent chancellor position, said the changes at the university “will be challenging and painful” and “almost certainly include layoffs.”

The board on Wednesday was expected to announce a permanent chancellor for the Carbondale campus, but instead voted to table the appointment.

This story will be updated. Check back for more details.

The post SIU Board of Trustees approve SIUE loan to Carbondale campus appeared first on Daily Egyptian.

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May 10, 2017 at 01:31PM

SIU Board of Trustees approve SIUE loan to Carbondale campus

EIU altering summer hours to help cut cooling costs

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EIU altering summer hours to help cut cooling costs


Posted:

Monday, May 8, 2017 1:42 PM EDT
Updated:

Monday, May 8, 2017 1:42 PM EDT




CHARLESTON, Ill. (WAND) – Eastern Illinois University officials say they will close select buildings early on Fridays in an effort to save money.

The changes, effective immediately and lasting until August 11, will see certain buildings close at noon on Fridays.  Officials say this will allow the university to raise the temperatures in the buildings, saving an estimated $500,000 in utility costs during this time period.

The new schedule will not affect the President’s Office, Booth Library, University Police, Renewable Energy Center, or the Office of Admissions.  Classes regularly scheduled in buildings affected by the change will be relocated to buildings where air conditioning will remain on.

Additionally, all university offices are required to be open to the public between 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and between 8 a.m. and 12 p.m. on Fridays.  Offices will return to regular business hours during weeks that have observed holidays.

For more information about Eastern Illinois University, click here.


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May 8, 2017 at 05:44AM

EIU altering summer hours to help cut cooling costs

Commentary: Impasse paralyzes college futures

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Our state is on a historic quest for a better economy, for a better tomorrow. Both political parties are adamant that Illinois must do more to create jobs, keep Illinoisans from fleeing the state and give our children hope that our best days are yet to come.

And yet every day, the longer the state’s budget impasse continues, the more one catalyst to that growth we all wish for pays a serious price: our college and university campuses around Illinois.

In his latest budget address, Gov. Bruce Rauner again proposed cuts to higher education. He called for a small increase in funds for the Monetary Award Program, but MAP grants haven’t been funded this year. The last two years of devastating funding cuts to MAP grants and operating funds for Illinois colleges and universities have been only an extreme example of 15 years of defunding, devaluing and dismantling this state’s once nationally ranked higher education system.

Higher education has its perception problems: charges of inefficiency, duplicative programs and administrative bloat. But try telling the leaders of many communities around the state that those concerns are worth the costs of draconian funding cuts.

In Bloomington, the local impact is enormous from three local colleges and universities: $725 million, with more than 4,500 jobs. Just south, in Decatur, nearly $200 million is generated from Millikin University and Richland Community College. From Rockford to Carbondale, Quincy to Champaign and Springfield to the Metro East, colleges and universities drive local economies and prepare our next generation of leaders and workforce. Yet the longer this budget impasse runs, the more paralyzed our system becomes — and the more the costs of this crisis grow.

It’s too easy to ignore higher education’s value and benefits because we take them for granted. As the state has cut more than $1 billion from 2000 to 2015 — 36 percent — in higher education funding and aid for students, we fail to appreciate how much a role colleges and universities play to provide higher average salaries, better health, longer employment, more tax support for local services, and much more.

As the House, Senate and governor debate approving a full-year budget or more short-term help through stopgap/lifeline solutions, higher education withers away. It’s not that our policymakers can’t recognize the need for urgent action when economic crisis rears its head. When Exelon, Sears and CME needed help, or when other businesses asked for incentives to stay and expand here, those calls were heard and addressed. Why not higher education? After all, it’s a mammoth employer: $50 billion in economic impact annually, with 800,000 students and 175,000 employees in more than 200 locations.

As the discussion at the Capitol centers on Illinois’ economic recovery and building a stronger workforce and tax base, slashing higher ed is hypocritical, counterproductive and digging our hole deeper. Students are choosing out-of-state schools or skipping college altogether. Others are deciding not to come back after going away for school. Talented faculty and staff are laid off and leaving for better opportunities elsewhere. And with each blow, the recovery takes much longer than the initial damage.

Until the trend in funding for higher education is reversed, the promise of a better Illinois is an illusion. A state without a plan is a state with a very dim future.

David W. Tretter is president of the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities and a leader of the Illinois Coalition to Invest in Higher Education.

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May 3, 2017 at 09:03PM

Commentary: Impasse paralyzes college futures