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

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

Voice of The Southern: Plenty of budget blame to go around

Former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar stirred the state’s already roiled political waters last week with his comments at a Paul Simon Public Policy Institute event on the Southern Illinois University Carbondale campus.

Speaking of the budget impasse that has paralyzed the state for nearly two years, Edgar committed the Republican version of heresy by granting partial absolution to House Speaker Mike Madigan. The former Republican governor said Madigan should be “maligned a little bit” but he has been “overly maligned.”

As can be expected in the hyper-partisan atmosphere that engulfs Illinois, it seems Edgar’s comments are being taken out of context — by virtually everyone.

Madigan, a Democrat from Chicago, has served as Speaker of the House for 32 years.

During election years, Madigan is portrayed by virtually every Republican running for office as the evil twin of Darth Vader or Voldemort. We saw denunciations of the speaker in ads run by local GOP candidates.

To be fair, Democratic candidates similarly accused their opponents of being controlled by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The reactions to Edgar’s comments remind us of a favorite device used by political cartoonists. In one frame, a politician is shown speaking on the stump. In the second frame, the crowd is depicted hearing something completely different.

What Edgar said is Mike Madigan is not the lone villain in the budget impasse. We believe that to be true.

Conversely, not being the villain isn’t the same as being the hero. That is an important distinction that, sadly, needs to be made in Illinois today, when battle lines are so clearly drawn. Quite frankly, there aren’t many heroes when it comes to the state’s budget impasse.

That is why we appreciate Edgar’s candor. When is the last time you saw a politician’s name and the word candor in the same sentence?

This is not an attempt to canonize Edgar by any means. It should be noted that the basis of today’s budget crisis — unfunded pensions throughout the state — had roots in the Edgar administration.

But, Edgar’s comments did break the bonds of partisanship, which is odd considering the issues facing the state. And, Illinois will not return to financial health as long as Republicans and Democrats would rather point fingers at each other than sit down and hash things out.

Gov. Rauner has certainly not lived up to his end of the bargain — by law, the governor is supposed to present a balanced budget to the legislature.

That obviously hasn’t happened.

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In the meantime, the Democrats punted an opportunity to make political hay. Why haven’t they submitted budget plans to the governor and forced his hand?

To the Republicans who went to Congress vowing to knock Madigan from power, take the cue from Edgar. That’s not the battle that needs to be fought right now. The most important thing here is to do what is right for the people of Illinois moving forward.

For Democrats insistent on proving Gov. Rauner is in over his head, just quit. Stop it, because it’s getting old. Simply punting the ball back into enemy territory isn’t a winning strategy. You have the majority in both the House and the Senate. It’s time to take advantage of it.

The budget impasse is nearly two years old. There have been rumblings that a solution might be on the horizon. Of course, we’ve heard that before, so we’re not holding our breath.

But, the 2018 election will be rolling around soon. Gov. Rauner is past the mid-point of his term and has not had a budget for nearly two years. In our book, that’s not a winning platform.

We realize it is cynical to think political pressure may finally be the cudgel to break this stalemate, but that beats the status quo.

Voice of The Southern: Plenty of budget blame to go around

Slowik: GSU has no plans to add Quinn likeness to Hall of Governors

A portrait of former Gov. Pat Quinn was unveiled Monday in the Hall of Governors at the state Capitol in Springfield.

There are no plans, however, to add a formal likeness of Quinn any time soon to the Hall of Governors at Governors State University in south suburban University Park, a school representative said.

That’s too bad. I think it’s a shame a decent public servant like Quinn won’t be recognized alongside 39 other past Illinois governors dating back to the first, Shadrach Bond, who served from 1818 to 1822.

Walking through the Hall of Governors at GSU is like stepping back in time, in more ways than one. One can learn about local connections to state history, like how the name of a south suburban community was inspired by Gov. Joel Aldrich Matteson, who served from 1853 to 1857.

The beautiful bronze reliefs of past state leaders include Richard James Oglesby, who served three terms: from 1865 to 1869, in 1873, and from 1885 to 1889. There’s a city in LaSalle County named after Oglesby.

Some fine people have served as Illinois governor. There’s John Peter Altgeld, who some view as a champion of liberty and justice.

Altgeld pardoned some men he felt received unfair trials when they were convicted for murder in connection with the 1886 Haymarket Riot. The Chicago Housing Authority’s Altgeld Gardens public housing complex is named in his honor.

Altgeld was controversial. Conservatives hated him. Some called him an anarchist for pardoning labor union activists.

Others who served more recently are honored with public facilities named after them. Adlai Ewing Stevenson, who served from 1949 to 1953, is the namesake for a stretch of I-55 we all know from daily traffic reports as the Stevenson Expressway.

In Morris, you can visit William G. Stratton State Park, named after the 32nd governor. Stratton served from 1953 to 1961 and is credited with building the state’s interstate highways.

GSU’s Hall of Governors is filled with portraits of men who stood for principles and built things. Not all of them upheld the public trust. The hall includes a portrait of George Ryan, who gained international attention for a 1999 moratorium on executions and who commuted more than 160 death sentences to life sentences.

Ryan was later convicted of federal corruption charges and served more than five years in prison for his role in the “Licenses for Bribes” scandal involving his earlier tenure as Illinois secretary of state.

The scandal and conviction tarnished Ryan’s legacy and reputation. I’ll be surprised if any highways, public buildings, towns or state parks are named after Ryan. Yet despite his flaws, he was governor, and he’s included in the Hall of Governors at GSU.

Ryan, however, may be the last state leader to have his portrait included in GSU’s Hall of Governors. The hall, itself, might be considered a time capsule because it chronicles the service of governors from 1818 through 2003 and may never again be updated.

“We’ve not updated the gallery in the Hall of Governors since Ryan, and updating has not been a topic of discussion under the current budget circumstances,” Keisha Dyson, GSU assistant vice president for marketing and communications, said in response to my inquiry.

In 2010, GSU was asked whether a likeness of Rod Blagojevich would be added to the Hall of Governors. This was more than a year after the General Assembly impeached Blagojevich following his 2008 arrest by federal agents.

Blagojevich, who appeared on Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” after leaving office, was sentenced to 14 years in prison. He was convicted in 2011 of misusing his powers as governor in an array of wrongdoing, including most notably his attempts to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama after his 2008 election as president, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Blagojevich is the only former governor who does not have an official portrait in the state Capitol in Springfield.

Seven years ago, GSU said there were no plans at the time to include Blagojevich in its Hall of Governors because of financial constraints. That explanation deftly allowed the school to skirt the need to debate whether Blagojevich’s accomplishments outweighed his faults.

Apparently, once you gain entry to the Hall of Governors, you’re in for good, as Ryan’s bronze portrait still hangs on the wall, despite his corruption conviction.

But entry into the club is another matter of debate. In Springfield, one can conclude that no official portrait of Blagojevich will be added any time soon. Now that Quinn’s in the club, I suppose impeachment is the bar by which entry is measured.

I feel bad for GSU. I think it’s a fine school, and it’s unfortunate that administrators or the board of trustees of the public university might one day have to wrestle with the question of whether to add Blagojevich and Quinn to its Hall of Governors.

I understand GSU’s current position that because the state’s ongoing financial crisis has decimated funding for public universities, contributing to elimination of academic programs and enrollment declines, now is hardly the time to consider spending public funds to create a portrait of an official.

But what if cost was no consideration? What if Quinn provided private funds, as he did for his official portrait in Springfield?

Adding Quinn and not Blagojevich would seem to settle the question about excluding potential members from the club for unethical behavior.

Then again, questions remain about Quinn’s conduct while he was governor. A recent report by a court-appointed watchdog charged with looking into patronage hiring at the Illinois Department of Transportation detailed how top Democrats used clout to help friends and relatives get government jobs during Quinn’s administration, the Tribune reported.

Some might think it better to wait until questions about Quinn’s conduct are resolved before giving serious consideration to adding his likeness to GSU’s Hall of Governors.

One hopes current Gov. Bruce Rauner learns from the mistakes of his predecessors and refrains from any unethical behavior. Rauner has deep pockets, too, having put $50 million of his own money into his 2018 re-election campaign. He could easily afford to pay for his bronze bust, if GSU ever wanted to add him..

Slowik: GSU has no plans to add Quinn likeness to Hall of Governors

Guest view: No hope for Illinois without college funding

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 2000-2015 – 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.

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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.

Guest view: No hope for Illinois without college funding

Illinois Weighing Down National Higher Ed Spending Numbers

A new national report blames Illinois for weighing down overall higher education funding numbers by a full 5 percent. (Chicago Tonight)

The impact of Illinois’ budget stalemate on higher education within the state’s borders has been well documented (go here and here for examples), but a new study shows just how much the impasse has affected national numbers as well.

Overall state and local government support for higher education across the country fell by $130 per student in 2016, the first time that figure failed to grow in four years. And the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association – a national group of postsecondary education advocates – puts blame for that decline squarely on the shoulders of the Prairie State.

“Overall support fell by 1.8 percent per full-time equivalent (FTE) student enrollment in inflation adjusted terms,” SHEEO says in its April report, “but would have increased by 3.2 percent if not for Illinois, which cut its support by a staggering 80 percent.”

Put simply, Illinois is solely responsible weighing down overall higher education funding numbers after dropping its per-student spending from nearly $11,000 in 2015 down to $2,196 last year.

That average across all 50 states fell from $7,082 per student to $6,954 over the same period.

Read the full SHEEO report here.

Illinois had, in recent years, actually seen one of the greatest increases among all states in higher education spending, according to the report, jumping from $7,265 per student in 2011 to $10,986 in 2015.

But after last year’s stopgap budget decimated that support, the state is now looking at the largest decrease in educational provisions in the country.

On top of 2016’s funding decline, overall enrollment also fell for the fifth straight year, dropping to 11.1 million FTE students. Again, Illinois led the charge on that front with an 11 percent enrollment reduction – or 46,000 FTE students – which made up more than half of the nationwide decline, according to the report.

The numbers here were so extreme that in many charts included in the report, SHEEO showed calculations both for the nation as a whole as well as for “U.S. excluding Illinois.”

The group’s annual report looks at both state and local funding sources, along with tuition and enrollment trends to gauge overall funding changes. This year, SHEEO says state contributions to higher education fell to $90 billion. That total stood closer to $91 billion in 2015.

Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan met last week for the first time in 2017 to discuss possible solutions to the state’s nearly two-year long budget impasse. At the same time, college students joined with professors and union leaders to protest in Springfield, carrying signs that read “Hey Bruce Do Your Job So That We Can Do Ours.”

“Governor Rauner understands and is gravely concerned about the severe financial challenges facing our students, colleges and universities and that is why he is working every day to find consensus on a budget that is truly balanced, and ensure the state’s higher education system thrives in the long-term,” Illinois Secretary of Education Beth Purvis said in a statement, adding that Rauner won’t endorse a budget unless it addresses long-term pension reform.

While Illinois may be weighing down the national numbers, it’s not the only state that reduced funding in 2016. According to the report, 17 states limited higher education support last year, while 33 states increased their totals. But even that number is down from the 40 states that increased funding in 2015.

The average amount of per-student funding is also 17 percent below where it stood in 2008 and only five states currently provide more funding than they did nearly a decade ago.

“The fact that 17 states reduced support in 2016 compared to 10 in 2015 and the very real cuts that higher education is facing this year in many states suggest that there will be more pressure in the future on colleges and universities to cut budgets and on students and families to pay more in tuition,” Iowa Board of Regents Executive Director Bob Donley said in a press release.

Follow Matt Masterson on Twitter: @ByMattMasterson

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Illinois Weighing Down National Higher Ed Spending Numbers