The Historic Budget Crisis That’s Threatening the Future of Public Colleges and Universities

Illinois’ budget standoff poses an existential threat to public higher education in the state.

Illinois has not passed a real budget in nearly two years, the first state to go that long without a budget since the Great Depression. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has refused to sign off any budget that doesn’t also curtail collective bargaining rights, leading to a showdown with the state’s Democrats. 

Much attention has been paid to the politics of this fight, but what do the effects of the lingering crisis look like in people’s day-to-day lives? Stranded by the State—an 8-part video series produced in partnership with Kartemquin Films—follows the families, workers and students living through these de facto budget cuts, showing the ways they deteriorate the fabric of Illinois communities.

The series incorporates data connecting the situation in Illinois to long-term trends of austerity nationwide—including the staggering cuts proposed in President Trump’s first budget.

This episode spotlights the effects of the Illinois budget crisis on public higher education. In the face of increasing cuts to funding, total enrollment has plummeted across Illinois state universities in recent years. At the same time, tuition has increased for students by nearly 25 percent. 

This situation has led to skyrocketing student debt and public colleges and universities that are struggling to keep their doors open. But as this episode shows, students, professors and state residents are fighting back to save public higher ed.

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The Historic Budget Crisis That’s Threatening the Future of Public Colleges and Universities

College offers free-tuition ‘test drive’


CARLINVILLE — Blackburn College is initiating a new program to welcome transfer students with free tuition.

Students can now “test-drive” the college with free tuition their first semester to see how the school provides a unique educational setting.

“We saw this as an opportunity to let transfer students experience the exceptional academic programs Blackburn College provides and how the college is focused on accessible and affordable education,” Blackburn College President John Comerford said.

“It is a great way for transfer students to find out, first-hand, how they like the college—without paying any tuition for the fall semester,” he continued.

Students must be from Illinois, meet certain requirements — including participating in the college’s work program — and meet usual admission requirements for transfer students.


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College offers free-tuition ‘test drive’

Guest view: Illinois grads, act to bolster university system

Representing the more than 700,000 living alumni, including nearly 400,000 in the state of Illinois, more than 100 alumni from the University of Illinois System’s three universities convened at the state Capitol on May 10 to meet with legislators for University of Illinois Alumni Day at the Capitol. University System President Tim Killeen, Executive Vice President and Vice President for Academic Affairs Barb Wilson, U of I at Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Robert Jones, U of I at Chicago Chancellor Michael Amiridis, U of I at Springfield Chancellor Susan Koch and other University leaders joined alumni in their efforts to meet with members of the General Assembly.

Illinois Connection – the legislative advocacy network of the University of Illinois Alumni Association – and the University’s Office of Governmental Relations coordinate the annual event that brings alumni together to advocate on behalf of the University of Illinois.

As the state has been operating without a budget for nearly two years, the advocacy efforts and support of alumni are needed now more than ever. Higher education is essential to the state’s economic vitality, and the University of Illinois can be part of the solution to the budget crisis. The university has introduced a 5-year program, the Investment, Performance and Accountability Commitment (IPAC) proposal, to provide the university a stable level of financial support. IPAC will hold the University accountable to the state in delivering it missions of affordable education, workforce preparation, innovation and economic development. IPAC would require the university to admit a certain number of Illinois residents, while also creating the Invest in Illinoisans program to provide over $125 million per year in financial aid for Illinois residents.

The University of Illinois provides value to every citizen across the state through its educational, research and outreach programs. As the state’s leading and most comprehensive public higher education system, here are just a few ways the U of I System is providing value:

• U of I Hospital and Health Sciences System is the state’s largest public healthcare provider

• U of I Extension shares expertise and knowledge in every county in the state. More than 1.5 million residents participate in U of I Extension programs each year.

• Many of the world’s greatest discoveries and inventions originated at the University of Illinois, including the first computer-based education system, home air-conditioning systems, the first post-secondary disability support service program in the world, cancer therapeutics and the first treatment for multi-drug resistant HIV.

• More than 80,000 students enroll annually, including students from 101 of 102 counties in the state. More than 80 percent of students are Illinois residents.

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• One of the state’s largest employers, with nearly 30,000 full-time employees

• Annual state economic impact is $14 billion

Speaking to my fellow alumni and friends of the university system: Please get involved in supporting your university. Currently, our state ranks 50th in its support for higher education. Our degrees are only as good as the university’s ranking and reputation. Not only are we helping future students by supporting and advocating for our Alma Mater, but we are also helping increase the value of our degrees. Let’s all do our part to help maintain the reputation and stature of our cherished institution. 

Guest view: Illinois grads, act to bolster university system

An apology to my grandchildren

I owe my grandchildren an apology. From an early age I encouraged them that higher education would be rewarded with career opportunities. My granddaughter’s conscientious study to be a teacher rewarded her with a “Golden Apple” scholarship in education that included a summer internship in Chicago.

Recently, she was informed that her internship has been postponed due to the “budget impasse” in Springfield. I should have encouraged her to get a mediocre education, listen to those who complained around her, develop a platform on what “people want to hear,” run for office and get elected.

Then you have it made! You will enjoy a nice salary (whether you accomplish anything or not), health insurance separate from what you legislate for your constituents, and other “perks” unavailable to the common man. Just remember, from day one in office you have one goal – get REELECTED! All those promises made on the campaign trail are moot. Just get REELECTED! Someday you might be as mighty as Michael Madigan (probably not because he will remain in office until they carry him out on his shield!). Unfortunate for Illinois, but the truth.

So, to my granddaughter (and all others suffering from an ineffective state government) I only hope this impasse ends soon so that we as Illini will no longer be a laughing-stock for the rest of the U.S.

Glenn Philpott, Lebanon

An apology to my grandchildren

SWIC dismisses 47 staff members

More staff members at Southwestern Illinois College have been dismissed.

SWIC’s board of trustees unanimously approved a reduction in force of 47 full- and part-time positions at a special meeting Wednesday night. The dismissals are effective at the beginning of next fiscal year, July 1.

“The additional reduction (in) force is not based on people or performance, but on the state budget crisis that is directly impacting institutions of higher education statewide,” SWIC President Georgia Costello said in a news release. “The impact on state colleges and universities has been devastating, requiring some to start forced reductions much earlier.”

The following statement was released by SWICEE Local 6600 executive committee, which represents support staff members at SWIC:

“We are disappointed by the board of trustee’s decision to implement drastic cuts to our employee group despite being offered cost saving measures by our membership in contractual concession. In spite of appeals to implement these cost saving measures, and save as many vital positions as possible, these pleas went unanswered. These employees are hardworking individuals, many of which have dedicated their entire careers to the service of students and the education of our youth.

“We were hopeful that the board would consider these or other measures that would save funds and maintain vital, knowledgeable employees in such areas as veterans services, financial aid, PSOP, marketing, and others. These are staff that consistently provide excellent service to students and community members.”

SWIC cited three reasons for the layoffs, in a news release, — “continuing steep losses in state funding, corresponding enrollment declines, and the continuing state budget impasse.”

The news release details the loss of state funding SWIC has endured the last several years. In fiscal 2015, the college received $13.5 million in funding. In fiscal 2016, the funding dropped by 87 percent to $1.6 million. During the current fiscal year, SWIC has received $6.7 million, which is 50 percent, of credit-hour reimbursements and tax-levy equalization funds, according to the news release.

SWIC has experienced a decline in enrollment over the last three fiscal years as well. According to figures provided by the college, 18,706 students attended the college during fiscal 2016, which was a decline from 19,845 students in fiscal 2015 and 20,743 students in fiscal 2014.

The additional reduction (in) force is not based on people or performance, but on the state budget crisis that is directly impacting institutions of higher education statewide.

SWIC President Georgia Costello

The reductions affect 8 full-time and 39 part-time employees, according to the news release, resulting in a salary savings of $1.2 million.

The part-time employees worked in a variety of departments at SWIC including veterans services, financial aid, library services and marketing. It’s unclear how the reduction in library staff will impact the operations of libraries on the three SWIC campuses — Belleville, Red Bud and Granite City.

SWIC spokesman Jim Haverstick said the college is still determining the summer library schedules.

The part-time employees dismissed made an hourly rate of between $9.72 and $26.52.

The eight full-time staff members dismissed included two veterans educational benefits specialists. The salaries for the full-time staff members ranged from $32,431 to $45,792.

One of the individuals dismissed was Susan Pflug, an administrative assistant for Programs and Services for Older Persons.

PSOP volunteer Don Lehman, who lives near Belleville, was sad to hear the news about Pflug.

“She’s always the go-to person as far as PSOP goes,” Lehman said.

The staff reductions Wednesday follow a reduction in force of 19 administrative positions in March, which also will save $1.2 million, according to college officials. The administrative cuts are also effective July 1.

In the fall, the board approved the voluntary retirement of 12 individuals. The voluntary retirement program was offered to employees as a way “to reduce the size and cost of SWIC’s work force,” according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. The program cost SWIC $461,971 in payments to those individuals who took advantage of it.

The board of trustees also approved a tuition increase this spring. Starting this summer, tuition will increase from $109 per credit hour to $113 per credit hour.

Part-time staff members dismissed by SWIC Board of Trustees



Hourly rate

Sabrina Adams

Financial Aid/Registration Specialist GC


Kiel Ainsworth



Glenn Binkley

Veterans Services Clerk


Shannon Blair

Library Services Assistant GCC


Susan Bovinette

Extension Center Evening Supervisor


Thomas Browne

Graphic Artist


Kira Buckingham

Web Developer


Carol Byers

Computing Services Technician


Brandon Carel

Help Desk Technician


Rashaun Farmer

Financial Aid/Registration Specialist GC


Mildred Hand

Administrative Assistant and Lead Switchboard Operator SWGGC


De’Ona Hardy

Mailroom Clerk


Lisa Heiken

Executive Office Assistant RB


LeKim Hicks

Switchboard Operator


Logan Holland

Media Services Technician


Joyce Hopkins

Switchboard Operator GC


Kassaundra Hund

NTC and Non-Traditional Programming Specialist


Charlotte Hurst

Receptionist/Print Services


Sarah Jackson

Print Technician


Philip Janklow

Print Operator


Anita King

Accounting Clerk


Kimberly King

Business Office Representative GC


James Klenn

Copywriter/Design Team


Brooke Lewis

Academic Advising/Counseling Services Assistant


William Lion

Data Specialist/Counseling Center


Jessica Mannisi

Curatorial Assistant


Curtis Matthews Jr

Help Desk Technician


Garrett May



Ruth Mueller

Success Center Coordinator/Specialist Red Bud


Kirsten Pastoriza

Financial Aid/Registration Specialist GC


Tracie Renschen

Exercise and Wellness Activities Coordinator


Samantha Rhoades

Library Services Assistant RB


Pamela Scruggs

Community Education Assistant


Sona Shrestha

Print Technician


Charmel Smith

Access Testing Specialist and Student Accommodator


Andrew Spiroff

Media Services Technician


Jean Tindall

Lead Print Technician GCC


Deborah Vinyard

Digital Print Technician


Kayla Vratney

Secretary Liberal Arts


Full-time staff members dismissed by SWIC Board of Trustees




Hazel Allen

Veterans Educational Benefits Specialist


Debbie Darling

Administrative Assistant for Vice President for Student Development


Sandra Donjon

Executive Assistant RBC


Andrea Fohne

Executive Assistant-IT


Geralyn Hobbs

Veterans Educational Benefits Specialist


Susan Pflug

Administrative Assistant – PSOP


Marilyn Quitmeyer

Secretary Dual Credit


Jana Ross

Biology Laboratory Technician


SWIC dismisses 47 staff members

Higher ed rally blames Rauner


Sen. Daniel Biss, Democratic candidate for governor, said Gov. Rauner is “doing a good job” of driving university students away from Illinois, to schools in other states.

PHOTO by Debby Hernandez

The rally began as students and faculty gathered around Illinois’ Statehouse Rotunda, chanting “Fund our futures” and “Do your Job,” calling on Gov. Bruce Rauner to fund higher education. It continued outside the Statehouse by the Abraham Lincoln statue with speakers firing up the crowd about the effects of the budget impasse on higher education.

William McNary, co-director of Citizen Action Illinois, noted that Rauner is the only Illinois governor who has not passed a budget.

“Gov. Rauner, we are calling on you to stop diving and start leading, stop dictating and start compromising, stop campaigning and start governing,” McNary said at the April 27 event.

Rep. Chris Welch, D-Hillside, sparked the crowd to chant, “Rauner’s got to go.”

“We need to save higher education in Illinois and we are going to do that by getting rid of Bruce Rauner,” he said. “People educated here stay here. They raise their families here. They pay taxes here.”

Illinois’ general fund investment in higher education has decreased since fiscal year 2000, according to the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability 2017 report on Illinois’ disinvestment in higher education.

Fiscal 2015 funding was a 41 percent decrease from fiscal 2000 levels. Fiscal year 2015 was the last year Illinois public higher education institutions received complete state funding.

Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, a Democratic candidate for governor, said universities in other states believe Rauner is “doing a good job” of driving students out of Illinois and into their states.

“Universities in Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana and Missouri think Rauner is doing a great job sending our young people out of Illinois…making our colleges and universities unaffordable,” he said.

Biss called for free higher education tuition, and said “the people” are bringing change to the state.

“The solutions are not coming from that building right now (pointing to the Statehouse). The solutions are coming from the movement of people that is rising across the state to take our state back,” he said.

J. B. Pritzker, a Democratic candidate for governor, who also supports making higher education affordable for everyone, criticized Rauner.

“Rauner cares more about spreadsheets than he does about people,” Pritzker said.

Rep Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, spoke about the rippling effects of inadequate funding for higher education, which is one of many areas affected by the state’s budget impasse. Stuart said the School of Pharmacy at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville has suffered from cuts the university has made to maintain their programs.

 “You can’t keep cutting away at the edges before you get to the heart of something,” she said.

SIUE School of Pharmacy is only one of six pharmacy schools in the state, and only one of three that are public. The state would lose 33 percent of public pharmacy schools if SIUE closes its program because of lack of funding.

Cynthia Ramos, a student from North Central College majoring in elementary education, said the lack of funding for Monetary Award Program grants reduces opportunities for future students as well.

“When I have my own classroom, I want to be confident when I tell students of the opportunities ahead of them,” Ramos said. “I will still encourage higher education, but now with the understanding that, financially, fewer of my students will be able to make the choice to attend college.”

Patricia Burchfield, a senior student from Northeastern Illinois University, said students are often told to work harder when their grants are eliminated, while politicians “continue to not do their job.”

“When we think of criminals, people think of prison, but the real criminal is in the building behind me,” she said. “As long as Rauner collects our tax dollars and fails to represent us, he is stealing and that makes him a criminal.”

Burchfield also acknowledged Rauner’s lack of a budget throughout his term in office.

“If I had failed all my courses the first two years, I wouldn’t be graduating, but you fail for two years and still want to be called governor,” she said. “Politicians are supposed to represent us. We are not being represented, we are being ignored.”

Contact Debby Hernandez at

Higher ed rally blames Rauner