Little: Falling student enrollment bad sign for Illinois

Illinois’ education environment has been extremely volatile for the last couple of years. State funding for our state’s public colleges and universities has significantly decreased, schools are laying off faculty members, library hours have been reduced and maintenance work has been delayed. Low-income students face the threat of having their state-funded scholarships taken away from them, and there doesn’t seem to be a long-term solution in sight.

This financial crisis stems from decades of fiscal mismanagement, which has lead to $15 billion in unpaid bills and a preposterous quarter-trillion dollars in unfunded pension liabilities to loyal, public employees.

Cuts in state funding have forced schools to raise tuition and fees, causing a host of negative effects. In addition to stealing the hope that low income students have for procuring a higher education, increases in cost lead to declining graduation rates, more student loan debt, inability to make large purchases (e.g., a home or a car) and emotional stress.

Uncertainty about financial aid, as well as increased competition from surrounding states, have led to Illinois gaining the title of the second largest exporter of freshmen to other state’s public colleges. Thousands of students are following the money and searching for the biggest bang for their buck. According to the Illinois Board of Higher Education Outmigration Context Report, the net loss of students in 2014 — the most recent year for which data is available — was 16,623, which is greater than the undergraduate student body of nine of Illinois’ public universities.

Inevitably, this has all contributed to lower enrollment at most state schools. Illinois State University had fewer new freshmen and transfer students this fall, ending three continuous years of record breaking growth. Our school is down over 300 freshmen and over 200 transfer students in comparison to last year. ISU’s overall enrollment remained relatively constant, with only a 1.2 percent decline versus fall 2016.

Many other state schools were not nearly as lucky. Chicago State University’s enrollment dropped 25 percent in 2016, and 11.4 percent this year. Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and Western Illinois University were neck and neck at with a fall of 8.9 percent.

Public universities in neighboring states are jumping at the opportunity to attract Illinois talent to their institutions. Schools like University of Iowa provide shiny scholarships, but still make more money off out-of-state students than residents. Some colleges, such as the University of Missouri, show students how they can become eligible for in-state tuition after just one year.

Another downfall of losing students is that gifted students may never return to positively impact our state’s workforce. It’s very common for students to stay put after graduation. Losing talented students means losing talented workers, innovators and entrepreneurs who can benefit our economy.

Illinois made this financial nightmare a reality by ignoring the long-term consequences of poor short-term decision making. Our state’s unstable budget has led to the increase of tuition, and ultimately the loss of students to other states’ public schools. Luckily, ISU has weathered the storm and has not been nearly as affected as other Illinois colleges and universities.

Although our enrollment rates have been resilient in the face of danger, will we be able to uphold our financial and educational value if this trend of mismanagement of funds continues? The bottom line is that if Illinois does not get the budget on a sustainable path, vital organizations and institutions will crash and burn. While it isn’t too late to get back on track, immediate action must be taken to stop the downfall of our state before the damage becomes irreversible.

Little: Falling student enrollment bad sign for Illinois

Acting NIU President Says Employee Raises Are A Priority

Northern Illinois University’s Acting President said it’s time to repair the damage done by the state budget impasse.  That includes addressing employee compensation.

After more than 700 days without, Illinois has a budget and Northern Illinois University has funding for a full year.  Acting NIU President Lisa Freeman said the school must now work to make up ground that was lost during the budget impasse.

“We need to make sure that we take care of things that have been neglected during that period,” Freeman said, “and that includes employee compensation, it includes our physical plant and our infrastructure.”

Freeman said that, even though the school’s current state allocation is smaller than in past budgets, at least there is now funding to go toward those necessary items.  In the wake of the impasse, many urgently need action.

“But to me, personally,” Freeman said, “the priority is making sure that our employees who are dedicated and committed to the university can see some raises as soon as we possibly do it.”

Freeman says that will take some work to figure out, but she has a team on it and hopes to be able to say more on the subject soon.

In the two years since Illinois last had a budget, colleges and universities have been living hand-to-mouth, trying to keep afloat by laying off employees, deferring maintenance and other cost-cutting measures.  

Freeman also said, regardless of the level of state support, the school will continue efforts to attract and retain students. She says that’s must if NIU is to be healthy in the long run. 

Acting NIU President Says Employee Raises Are A Priority

With state budget in place, Michael ready for future of EIU athletics

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CHARLESTON (WCIA) — Eastern Illinois University was one of the hardest hit by the state’s 700-plus day budget impasse. Several cuts had to me made, including in the athletic department. Now with a budget in place, Eastern athletic director Tom Michael has a brighter outlook on the days ahead.

EIU athletic director Tom Michael can look at the future of Panther athletics with a sharper focus nowadays.

“There’s a level of relief to say that they’ve gotten that piece of it figured out for all of higher education in the state of Illinois but specifically here at EIU,” Michael said. “The important piece there is now we have an opportunity to plan.”

And that’s something Michael has had to do a lot of the last few years. When he was hired back in 2014, Eastern’s athletic department was nearly a million bucks in the red. He balanced the budget in 2016, making up 986-thousand dollars. This year the Panthers will almost break even.

“We’re going to come awfully close to balancing it. It’s something that we’re awfully proud of with the financial circumstances that have been around the state of Illinois and around our institution,” Michael explained. “To be able to fiscally responsible as a department and a unit during these tough times is a credit to our staff and our coaches.”

Unlike Illinois and other Power 5 conference schools that receive big pay days from TV revenue to help them remain independent, Eastern’s athletic budget relies on the state to help make ends meet.  This year about 10 percent of EIU’s 11 million dollar budget will come from state appropriations.  Compare that to the U of I which will receive more than 40 million dollars from the Big Ten alone.

“The institution funds us at a pretty significant number which we certainly could not make it happen without that support,” he added.

And with a budget in place, Michael can focus on supporting his coaches and players this season, instead of worrying about what’s happening in Springfield.

With state budget in place, Michael ready for future of EIU athletics

SIU Alumni React to Budget Cuts

CARBONDALE — Comptroller Susana Mendoza promised the release of $695 million to Illinois higher education, but even though more state money could be on the way, it hasn’t stopped the fear of uncertainty that alumni said is dangerous to the future of higher education.

Thursday, Mendoza released $527 million to higher education. The same day, with the fear of shaky funding, the SIU Board of Trustees voted to permanently cut $19 million from university’s budget.

It’s something that has alumnus Jeffrey Lewis sad to see.

“Schools like Southern Illinois University are developing future leaders, and if you’re cutting back significant amounts of money like that out of this budget, you’re really really hurting the future,” Lewis said.

Lewis graduated from SIU in 1978 in the Political Science program, a program that may see the loss of its master program in the near future. He said cutting back is driving students away to the competition.

“To not invest in those universities, first of all, it’s going to cause your top talent to go out of state,” he said.

Other alums like Rapheal Hayden said what worries them most about the cuts are the futures of the students.

“Honestly, it makes me wonder what’s going to happen with the students,” said the 2013 alum. “If anything, SIU Carbondale needed more upgrades in a lot of different areas.”

They worry the university will be left behind as part of the budget crisis.

“For us to be a lagger in public education is just stupid,” Lewis said. “It’s not only just short sighted: it just doesn’t make any sense.”

Both men said investing in the university is vital to its future as a major institution.

SIU Alumni React to Budget Cuts

SIU’s School of Medicine after effect from the lack of a budget

by Em Nguyen, Fox Illinois


Universities across the state are looking at a 10 percent funding reduction. (WRSP)


A budget is in place but that doesn’t mean universities aren’t feeling the aftermath of the two-year stalemate.

The Springfield’s Southern Illinois University School of Medicine’s biggest hurdle is how resurrecting their oncology-hematology fellowship. SUI was ready to launch the program right before the budget impasse in 2015.

This would give students a hands-on program for the medical field as well as keep students working towards something greater.

Now SIU says the oncology program won’t be able to come back until summer of 2019.

They still need money, approvals, and ‘fellow’ recruitment.

“So I think that adds a whole new level of uncertainty for the schools,” Dr. Aziz Khan Executive Director of the SIU Cancer Institute, “And for the University, I think that is terrible, it’s just scary.”

The fellowship will cost about $450,000 a year.

SIU said they fear universities hurting from the last two years, will continue to see: lost support, fewer professors, and lower enrollment.

Universities across the state are looking at a 10 percent funding reduction.

SIU said this can hurt the way the world looks at Illinois colleges.

SIU’s School of Medicine after effect from the lack of a budget

Illinois’ Public University Problem: NEIU, GSU Presidents Weigh In

Illinois legislators have finally passed a budget, but the two-year-plus impasse did not leave the state’s public universities unscathed: faculty and staff were laid off, student enrollment dwindled and bond ratings were downgraded.

In March, Northeastern Illinois University announced it would lay off 180 full-time employees to balance out a deficit deepening from lack of state funding during the budget standoff.

In a statement released on July 6, the day Gov. Bruce Rauner’s budget package vetoes were overridden by House lawmakers, NEIU’s interim President Richard Helldobler wrote the university “can finally after more than two years refocus its efforts from survival to building and enhancing an exceptional environment for its students.”

A Chicago-Sun Times article published Friday took aim at Helldobler for using university funds to pay for a trip to President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January.

Using money from the NEIU Foundation, which raises private funds for the school, Helldobler spent nearly $3,000 on a Grand Hyatt hotel room for four nights and close to $1,000 on airfare and two Inaugural Heartland Ball tickets.

Governors State University, located about 30 miles south of Chicago in Will County, will increase its tuition by 15 percent this fall to cope with little-to-no state funding.

The university’s president, Elaine Maimon, said that although the state has a budget, it doesn’t mean Governors State is out of the woods. For that reason, the tuition hike is permanent.

“We’re not going to put on rose-colored glasses,” Maimon said. “The state should be providing us more investment but it doesn’t look as if there’s a pattern for doing that, so it’s looking as if we’re going to have to be more tuition-dependent.”

Maimon pointed out that Governors State’s current full-year tuition, which is $8,160, is still among the most affordable schools in the Chicago area. Starting this fall, the full-year tuition will increase to $9,390.

Helldobler and Maimon join host Phil Ponce to share their perspectives on Illinois’ public universities.

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Illinois’ Public University Problem: NEIU, GSU Presidents Weigh In

Lawmakers finally pass state budget: Chancellor, students discuss effects on university

With the state of Illinois passing its first budget since 2015, there are a lot of questions to be answered, specifically questions regarding funding for higher education.

The state went 736 days without a budget and SIUE kept open with 29 percent of the state appropriation for the ‘15-‘16 fiscal year and 53 percent of the state appropriation for ‘16-‘17 fiscal year, according to Chancellor Randy Pembrook.

“We crossed over from June 30 to July 1 and we thought that was the end of the ‘16-‘17 situation, and so when they passed the legislation, they not only acted on ‘17-‘18 funding, but they restored the entire budget for ‘16- ‘17,” Pembrook said.

Katie Stuart, state representative for the 112th district, which emcompasses SIUE, voted against the override of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of Senate Bill 9, but clarified she voted to override Rauner’s veto of Senate Bill 6, which includes the funding for higher education.

“I want to note the importance of higher education statewide and in the area. SIUE is one of the largest employers and having it in a crisis situation wasn’t helping anything,” Stuart said.

Senior accounting major Blake Bamper, of Maryville, also expressed concern about the tax icrease negatively affecting a lot of people, but said the benefits make up for the negatives.

“It’s going to be a tough one to swallow for some people. I think overall, the benefits are gonna outweigh the negatives of the tax hike. The benefits of just having budget outweigh that,” Bamper said. 

Because the bill passed, SIUE will now be able to operate within the original outlined budget, provide Monetary Award Program funding and continue to work on building projects, Pembrook said.

“The backfill for ‘16-‘17 is about 27 to 28 million, the MAP funding for ‘16-‘17 will be between 6 to 7 million dollars. The 90 percent [allocation for] ‘17- ‘18 will be about 53 million dollars and we expect MAP funding for about 7 million dollars,” Pembrook said. 

One of the immediate changes students, faculty and staff will see is the completion of construction on the Science East building, which will be done in the coming Fall.

“The reappropriation for Science East is a 26 million dollar project. They had done about 20 million, so the last, between 6 and 7 million dollars will be coming forward on that,” Pembrook said.

According to Pembrook, Alumni and Founders halls will see renovations after the Science East building is done, and they hope to have two auditoriums up and running in about a month or so. 

The expansion of Dunham Hall to include two new performance facilities, is also on the list of projects to be completed. Because of the state funding and private gifts, they can now move on to the next stage of planning for that renovation.

Senior secondary education and biology major Heather Kotlarczyk, of Hazlewood, Mo., said she can’t think of much that needs to be changed at SIUE, regarding the funding from the budget pass.

“I feel like they should talk to professors about what they want see and that would be a good idea. I like so much about this school I don’t know what I would change or want to see changed,” Kotlarczyk said.

As far as new projects go, Pembrook said there are 8 or 10 things that the he and the budget committee discussed in their meeting Thursday, July 6.

Pembrook said they talked about salaries, marketing and branding, retention initiatives, new programs that could help offer cutting edge things and an innovation fund. They also talked about the teaching excellence center in the library, new staffing and the IT department.

“This isn’t to say that we are going to be able to afford and do all of these, I want to be clear on that, but [these are] things we discussed that maybe can be part of a discussion now,” Pembrook said.

Senior computer science major John Scheibal, of Edwardsville, said he would like to see the school use its funding to bring more professional degrees to the campus.

“I think it needs to have more masters and doctorate like programs. Like if you could go to SIUE and get a degree in law it would draw in so many people. They should focus on making sure people have the opportunity to do what they want and not have to go somewhere else afterwards,” Scheibal said.

SIUE’s Edwardsville campus is not the only place to see continued improvement.

Pembrook said we should see continued improvement on the East. St. Louis and Alton campuses as well, and the progress will move faster because of the funding.

Even though there is now a budget,  Pembrook said they  don’t plan on restoring everything they cut in face of the budget crisis. 

“As the institution begins to evolve, we are trying to make sure that all of things we do have a real purpose and we are efficient in doing them,” Pembrook said.

According to Pembrook, the budget committee has agreed to meet again in about a month and should know more about of distribution of funding and the time in which it will happen.


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Lawmakers finally pass state budget: Chancellor, students discuss effects on university