Letter: WIU will remain open

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While it is certainly unacceptable that our state officials continue to stall on passing a budget, as the editorial “Unacceptable” that appeared as part of a Gatehouse editorial series indicates, it is also unacceptable for an editorial to allude to the closure of select universities as the May 23 PJS “Unacceptable” editorial did.

The editorial also mentions the dire straits faced by mental health services, domestic violence shelters, and others as a result of the stalemate. However, these are mentioned in general terms; specific agencies are unnamed. A mention of the impact of the impasse on public higher education in general is sufficient to make the point, much like another Gatehouse newspaper chose to do in its “Unacceptable” version.

Public universities certainly face challenges as students are being driven out of state because of Illinois’ fiscal crisis and indecision. However, statements without proper attribution do nothing to alleviate the concerns of students and their families; they only fuel the rumor fire. We agree with the editorial’s premise: The budget situation is beyond unacceptable. It is harmful to education, social services, health care, etc. And our state legislators are aware of our concerns and needs. We have been a vocal, steady presence in Springfield.

Recently, Western Illinois University President Jack Thomas sent a letter to the university community to address rumors, as these inaccuracies damage the institution. Western Illinois University will remain open. We are actively recruiting students, accepting applications, and planning for the future.

Darcie Shinberger

Assistant Vice President, Advancement & Public Services

Director, University Relations

Macomb

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May 26, 2017 at 11:10AM

Letter: WIU will remain open

Our View: Unacceptable

http://ift.tt/2qTmjwo




That one word perfectly sums up the pain, dysfunction and instability Capitol politicians have inflicted on Illinois by their failure to provide a permanent balanced state budget for two years.

As the state’s credit ratings have been repeatedly downgraded, as residents sought greener pastures elsewhere, as community colleges and universities have been gutted, as businesses closed up shop and as social service agencies turned away the most vulnerable residents … elected officials have failed to do their job and show political courage to make the necessary painful decisions.

Who they blame is determined by whether a D or R follows their name. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is to blame. No, it’s Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan. Don’t forget the decades of politicians who made terrible financial decisions based on what would get them re-elected, not what was fiscally prudent.

The finger-pointing has gone on for far too long.

The state’s fiscal problems have created a crisis throughout Illinois — except in the state Capitol. Maybe the dome deflects the misery that permeates the rest of Illinois. But it can no longer shield elected officials from accepting the blame each member of the House and Senate, and the governor, bears for the atrocious state of the state.

The stack of unpaid bills climbed above $14 billion last week. The 2016 fiscal year, which ended last June, had a budgetary deficit of $9.6 billion; we shudder to think of what it’s going to be at the end of next month. The five state-funded pension systems are short about $130 billion. Each new financial report paints an even bleaker picture.

Still, every time progress seemed to have been made this year, it faded as quickly as it emerged because the need for a political win was more important. Because most Illinoisans have not been directly inconvenienced by the lack of a budget, it’s been easy to ignore.

But the impasse affects all of us. In order for the state to pay off its unpaid bills, shore up the pension systems and eliminate its deficit, it would cost every man, woman and child who lives in Illinois roughly $12,000 each.

Here’s how you calculate your share of the bill:

  • If every one of the state’s 12.8 million residents kicked in $1,094, we could pay off the $14 billion in unpaid bills.
  • The unfunded pension liability is an estimated $130 billion, due over the next 30 years. If we wanted to ensure today that it will be solvent, each resident would need to contribute $10,156 so state retirees will get their retirement benefits.
  • Don’t forget the $9.6 billion structural budget deficit at the end of fiscal year 2016; add in $750 more per person.

The ugly truth is, we are all going to pay for it somehow. And because politicians have abdicated their most basic duty for two years, the necessary cuts will be deeper and tax hikes will be higher than they should be.

Good. Now get informed on issues, and encourage others to do the same. There’s a reason that millions get spent on relentlessly nasty political ads — they work. They sway the casual voter who doesn’t care enough to dig for facts, or they leave others too disgusted by the spectacle and negativity to participate. Elections shouldn’t be decided by who can throw the most cash at attack ads. It’s up to all of us to keep that from being the determinant.

Next, get involved. Pick up your phone and call your state representative, senator and the governor’s office. Tell them how they have made it an embarrassment to be from Illinois. Share your anger that the significant issues that need attention — school funding reform, creating a thriving economy and building public universities into centers of innovation, to name a few — have been ignored.

A year ago we declared “Enough.” The day after, the governor and lawmakers passed a six-month stopgap spending plan that did not provide lasting stability. That’s not good enough.

It’s time to demand that Governor Rauner and our lawmakers do what is right. It’s time for the budget to come first. To not do so will cement their legacy with one word that encapsulates the sorry condition of our state.

Our View: Time to take action

If you don’t depend on the state for health care, social services or for business, it can be easy to ignore the nearly budget impasse that has created the sorry state Illinois is in.

But it’s reached the point where that cannot continue: The gridlock will endure unless residents become engaged in the political process. It is time to sound the alarm on how dire the situation is and how much worse the costs will become the longer Illinois does not have a permanent spending plan.

We want you to be informed. We want you to ask questions and demand better when a politician’s answer is to blame the other party.

More importantly, we want you to take action.

Here’s how to contact the governor, House and Senate leaders and your local senators and representatives. We encourage you to reach out to any and all of these politicians to express your frustration.

We have even included a “postcard” that you can clip, copy and send to the politicians who represent you.

Illinois’ current fiscal state is unacceptable. It’s time we demand our elected officials did something about it.

It’s time to demand a change. Tell our elected officials it’s time to get to work:

State officers

207 Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-0244;

House Speaker Michael Madigan

300 Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-5350.

Senate President John Cullerton

327 Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-2728.

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno

309G Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-9407

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin

316 Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-0494

103A Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-6216.

Bloomington district office: 2203 Eastland Drive, Suite 3; (309) 664-4440.

119A Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-0228.

Decatur district office: Macon County Building, 141 S. Main St.; (217) 429-8110.

103C Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-5755.

Vandalia district office: 310 W. Gallatin; (618) 283-3000.

309M Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-6674.

Mattoon district office: 88 Broadway Ave., Suite 1; (217) 235-6033.

108E Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 558-1006.

Decatur district office: 5130 Hickory Point Frontage Road, Suite 103; (217) 330-9356.

227N Stratton Office Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-8071.

Litchfield district office: 301 N. Monroe; (217) 324-5200.

1128E Stratton Office Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-0053.

205N Stratton Office Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-0066.

Salem district office: 1370 W. Main St., Suite A; (618) 548-9080.

204N Stratton Office Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-8398.

Shelbyville district office: 203 N. Cedar St.; (217) 774-1306.

632 Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-8163.

Decatur district office: 5130 Hickory Point Frontage Road, Suite 100; (217) 876-1968.

200-1N Stratton Office Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 558-1040.

632 Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-2087.

Olney district office: 219 E. Main; (618) 392-0108.

E-2 Stratton Office Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 524-0353.

Decatur district office, 1301 E. Mound Road Suite 270, (217) 877-9636.

The lack of a state budget for nearly two years has made it embarrassing to be from Illinois.

The self-created crisis by politicians has caused a huge deficit that is accompanied by an even larger stack of unpaid bills. It has harmed the most vulnerable of the state’s residents, crippled our higher education system and caused businesses to hesitate to plan for the future.

I’m tired of our politicians putting their party first. Please work in a bipartisan manner to pass a permanent balanced state budget for Illinois.

To not do so is unacceptable.

Don’t miss another special section.








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May 23, 2017 at 12:14PM

Our View: Unacceptable

Our View: Unacceptable

http://ift.tt/2qTmjwo




That one word perfectly sums up the pain, dysfunction and instability Capitol politicians have inflicted on Illinois by their failure to provide a permanent balanced state budget for two years.

As the state’s credit ratings have been repeatedly downgraded, as residents sought greener pastures elsewhere, as community colleges and universities have been gutted, as businesses closed up shop and as social service agencies turned away the most vulnerable residents … elected officials have failed to do their job and show political courage to make the necessary painful decisions.

Who they blame is determined by whether a D or R follows their name. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is to blame. No, it’s Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan. Don’t forget the decades of politicians who made terrible financial decisions based on what would get them re-elected, not what was fiscally prudent.

The finger-pointing has gone on for far too long.

The state’s fiscal problems have created a crisis throughout Illinois — except in the state Capitol. Maybe the dome deflects the misery that permeates the rest of Illinois. But it can no longer shield elected officials from accepting the blame each member of the House and Senate, and the governor, bears for the atrocious state of the state.

The stack of unpaid bills climbed above $14 billion last week. The 2016 fiscal year, which ended last June, had a budgetary deficit of $9.6 billion; we shudder to think of what it’s going to be at the end of next month. The five state-funded pension systems are short about $130 billion. Each new financial report paints an even bleaker picture.

Still, every time progress seemed to have been made this year, it faded as quickly as it emerged because the need for a political win was more important. Because most Illinoisans have not been directly inconvenienced by the lack of a budget, it’s been easy to ignore.

But the impasse affects all of us. In order for the state to pay off its unpaid bills, shore up the pension systems and eliminate its deficit, it would cost every man, woman and child who lives in Illinois roughly $12,000 each.

Here’s how you calculate your share of the bill:

  • If every one of the state’s 12.8 million residents kicked in $1,094, we could pay off the $14 billion in unpaid bills.
  • The unfunded pension liability is an estimated $130 billion, due over the next 30 years. If we wanted to ensure today that it will be solvent, each resident would need to contribute $10,156 so state retirees will get their retirement benefits.
  • Don’t forget the $9.6 billion structural budget deficit at the end of fiscal year 2016; add in $750 more per person.

The ugly truth is, we are all going to pay for it somehow. And because politicians have abdicated their most basic duty for two years, the necessary cuts will be deeper and tax hikes will be higher than they should be.

Good. Now get informed on issues, and encourage others to do the same. There’s a reason that millions get spent on relentlessly nasty political ads — they work. They sway the casual voter who doesn’t care enough to dig for facts, or they leave others too disgusted by the spectacle and negativity to participate. Elections shouldn’t be decided by who can throw the most cash at attack ads. It’s up to all of us to keep that from being the determinant.

Next, get involved. Pick up your phone and call your state representative, senator and the governor’s office. Tell them how they have made it an embarrassment to be from Illinois. Share your anger that the significant issues that need attention — school funding reform, creating a thriving economy and building public universities into centers of innovation, to name a few — have been ignored.

A year ago we declared “Enough.” The day after, the governor and lawmakers passed a six-month stopgap spending plan that did not provide lasting stability. That’s not good enough.

It’s time to demand that Governor Rauner and our lawmakers do what is right. It’s time for the budget to come first. To not do so will cement their legacy with one word that encapsulates the sorry condition of our state.

Our View: Time to take action

If you don’t depend on the state for health care, social services or for business, it can be easy to ignore the nearly budget impasse that has created the sorry state Illinois is in.

But it’s reached the point where that cannot continue: The gridlock will endure unless residents become engaged in the political process. It is time to sound the alarm on how dire the situation is and how much worse the costs will become the longer Illinois does not have a permanent spending plan.

We want you to be informed. We want you to ask questions and demand better when a politician’s answer is to blame the other party.

More importantly, we want you to take action.

Here’s how to contact the governor, House and Senate leaders and your local senators and representatives. We encourage you to reach out to any and all of these politicians to express your frustration.

We have even included a “postcard” that you can clip, copy and send to the politicians who represent you.

Illinois’ current fiscal state is unacceptable. It’s time we demand our elected officials did something about it.

It’s time to demand a change. Tell our elected officials it’s time to get to work:

State officers

207 Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-0244;

House Speaker Michael Madigan

300 Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-5350.

Senate President John Cullerton

327 Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-2728.

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno

309G Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-9407

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin

316 Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-0494

103A Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-6216.

Bloomington district office: 2203 Eastland Drive, Suite 3; (309) 664-4440.

119A Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-0228.

Decatur district office: Macon County Building, 141 S. Main St.; (217) 429-8110.

103C Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-5755.

Vandalia district office: 310 W. Gallatin; (618) 283-3000.

309M Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-6674.

Mattoon district office: 88 Broadway Ave., Suite 1; (217) 235-6033.

108E Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 558-1006.

Decatur district office: 5130 Hickory Point Frontage Road, Suite 103; (217) 330-9356.

227N Stratton Office Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-8071.

Litchfield district office: 301 N. Monroe; (217) 324-5200.

1128E Stratton Office Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-0053.

205N Stratton Office Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-0066.

Salem district office: 1370 W. Main St., Suite A; (618) 548-9080.

204N Stratton Office Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-8398.

Shelbyville district office: 203 N. Cedar St.; (217) 774-1306.

632 Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-8163.

Decatur district office: 5130 Hickory Point Frontage Road, Suite 100; (217) 876-1968.

200-1N Stratton Office Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 558-1040.

632 Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-2087.

Olney district office: 219 E. Main; (618) 392-0108.

E-2 Stratton Office Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 524-0353.

Decatur district office, 1301 E. Mound Road Suite 270, (217) 877-9636.

The lack of a state budget for nearly two years has made it embarrassing to be from Illinois.

The self-created crisis by politicians has caused a huge deficit that is accompanied by an even larger stack of unpaid bills. It has harmed the most vulnerable of the state’s residents, crippled our higher education system and caused businesses to hesitate to plan for the future.

I’m tired of our politicians putting their party first. Please work in a bipartisan manner to pass a permanent balanced state budget for Illinois.

To not do so is unacceptable.

Don’t miss another special section.








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May 23, 2017 at 12:14PM

Our View: Unacceptable

Voice of The Southern: Fund our public universities

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The state is running out of time.

That shouldn’t be surprising to anybody, but it really seems like our lawmakers in Springfield don’t realize what is going on.

We’re quickly approaching two years without a state budget. That’s nearly two years of little to no state funding for our universities, our social services and everything else.

That spells big trouble for Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Let’s face it, the situation is pretty serious — there are some in the state who say that budget won’t be reached until after the 2018 election.

SIUC is not alone here. Other state universities are in the same boat, some even worse.

In story in today’s paper, Kent Redfield, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said, “If we have no movement until after the 2018 elections, I think it would be a certainty some universities would not open that fall. I think Eastern, Western, Northeastern, and Chicago State are all the top of the list. The Carbondale situation is pretty tenuous as well.”

Is that alarming enough for the folks in Springfield? We hope so.

Those five universities equal nearly 35,000 students, according to spring 2017 numbers from the Illinois Board of Higher Education. According to the same numbers, there are 156,882 students enrolled in the state’s public universities. For those scoring at home, that’s nearly 22 percent of the state’s students.

Think about it for a second: Do you think students are going to enroll in a university that may not open? They answer should be a pretty resounding no. Do you think students are going to stay if a university may close its doors? Again, no.

And think about this — that could be up to 35,000 students leaving the state for college, paying more for out-of-state tuition. Nobody wants that.

It’s a problem, something that Jak Tichenor, interim director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at SIUC, called a “brain drain” in today’s story. “We’re losing some of our best and brightest in the state because of the impasse,” he said.

That’s no way to get the state on better grounds. In order for Illinois to get back to what it once was, the people who live here have to stay here.

And it would all start with funding SIUC and the rest of our public universities. And, don’t forget freezing the state’s sky-high property taxes, but that’s a story for another day.

Earlier this month, State Sen. Paul Schimpf said he’s been given “assurances” that lawmakers will vote by the end of May to get funding to universities on way or another. “Obviously, we would prefer a full budget, but if we have to do this incrementally then certainly a lifeline would be appreciated,” he said then.

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Looking at the calendar, May is more than halfway over, and we’re in no better place today than we were nearly 10 days ago when he said that.

It’s time for lawmakers to have a real sense of urgency — the same urgency the rest of the people of Illinois are feeling.

SIU is already approaching other ways to get money. Last week, the Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees authorized a plan to allow the Carbondale campus to borrow from the Edwardsville campus until which time the state of Illinois approves a full annual state appropriation to the SIU System.

That’s a last-ditch effort to get the funding SIUC needs. But what does it really do? After all, the borrowing is just on paper only to show SIUC is in the black.

The real solution is get the funding from the state — remember, SIUC hasn’t been fully funded since fiscal year 2015.

The leaders of this state — whoever and wherever you are — need to lock themselves in a room and come up with a full, balanced budget agreement. If that can’t be done, then shame on you, but at least find a way to fund our universities.

The state of Illinois cannot afford a “brain drain.” In reality, it can’t afford more draining of any kind.








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May 20, 2017 at 07:22PM

Voice of The Southern: Fund our public universities

Other Takes: Thriving higher education system needed in Illinois

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Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of editorials put together by the State Journal-Register in Springfield that detail the decline presided over by state government in Illinois.

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 soon in the SJ-R editorial board’s Sounding the Alarm series: Changes to taxes and consolidating governments needed to get Illinois’ fiscal ship in order.

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May 20, 2017 at 11:59AM

Other Takes: Thriving higher education system needed in Illinois

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

http://ift.tt/2qDtFEn


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

Letter to the Editor: Higher education funding cuts are urgent issue for all Illinois residents, NU students

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As the end of the spring legislative session in Springfield arrives, hope for a better tomorrow perseveres. Both political parties share some common goals: keep Illinoisans from leaving, attract more residents, business and jobs and turn our state’s fortunes around.

But with every day that lawmakers and the governor are unable to reach agreement on a full state budget, one critical component to reach these goals — our college and university campuses around the state — suffers very real damage.

It’s clear higher education needs to improve in some key areas, from becoming more efficient and eliminating duplicative programs to taking on charges of administrative bloat. But at what cost? Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed cuts to higher education in his latest budget address, and that follows 15 years of funding cuts to Monetary Award Program grants and operating funds for Illinois colleges and universities that have combined to defund, demoralize and dismantle what was once one of the nation’s leading higher education systems.

According to a recent study by the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities, Northwestern is a huge economic engine in Evanston and the surrounding communities with an estimated economic impact of over $3 billion annually. And this number doesn’t include capital expenditure, federal research grants or athletic events. This makes NU an important partner, along with 59 other independent institutions across the state that employ almost 68,000 statewide and create an overall economic impact of over $20 billion annually in Illinois.

Last year, more than 500 NU students received need-based grants from the state through MAP. MAP recipients are by definition are students with the fewest financial resources to attend college, and the MAP grant is a critical piece of a puzzle (along with other grants, loans and work) to make college possible. Without MAP, many of these students simply won’t attend college. And MAP students, often first-generation and minority, greatly enhance the quality, diversity and overall college experience for all NU students.

As the state has cut more than $1 billion from higher education funding and aid for students between 2000 to 2015, 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. And with the House, Senate and governor debating further cuts, it is important to realize that slashing higher education is hypocritical and counterproductive, causing students to choose out-of-state schools or skip college altogether.

It’s time for the NU community — the students, families, educators, administrators, alumni and everyone in the Evanston area who depend on NU — to mobilize. Contact your state representatives, senators and the governor through calls, emails, social media messages and in-person visits to let them know it’s time to end the impasse and make NU and all Illinois colleges and universities as valued as they are valuable to our state.

Dave Tretter, president of the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities

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May 14, 2017 at 03:43PM

Letter to the Editor: Higher education funding cuts are urgent issue for all Illinois residents, NU students