Students Meet with State Lawmakers on Lobby Day

McKendree University students participated in the annual Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities student lobby day at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield on April 12.

To view these students click here:

Students Meet with State Lawmakers on Lobby Day

Lawmaker proposes splitting up the SIU system

SPRINGFIELD — After Thursday’s vote against a plan to shift more money from SIUC to SIUE, a state lawmaker with ties to Edwardsville wants to split the two campuses.

State Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Belleville) has suggested the idea several times over the past couple decades, but he still feels the effort could win approval, especially in light of this week’s events.

Hoffman said he feels like SIUE doesn’t benefit much from being in the SIU system. He also feels like the two universities have different missions, and having different governing boards for each one will allow both to thrive.

Hoffman has filed similar legislation as recently as 2014.

His bills would essentially do two things: put SIU Edwardsville and the SIU School of Medicine under one umbrella and let SIU Carbondale have its own board.

It would also guarantee the two universities receive the same amount of money, not the 60-40 split it’s supposed to be currently.

Hoffman said that won’t cause SIUC to lose money.

“I would provide money to adequately fund the university systems, which would, I believe, not end up with SIU Carbondale losing money but both the universities would actually see an increase in the money,” Hoffman said.

Local lawmakers aren’t on board with the proposal.

“The timing is awful and it reeks a bit like a tantrum over what happened (Thursday),” State Rep. Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro) said.

Bryant also said the move would hurt SIU’s research accreditation.

State Sen. Paul Schimpf (R-Waterloo) and State Rep. Natalie Phelps Finnie (D-Elizabethtown) want more time to research the idea, but Schimpf also said in a statement he feels the two universities are better off in the same system.

State Sen. Dale Fowler (R-Harrisburg) worries SIUC will lose more money under the proposal, which could be devastating to the community.

News 3 also reached out to SIU system president Randy Dunn. His spokesman told us he wants to wait a few days to respond.

Lawmaker proposes splitting up the SIU system

LETTER: Public universities need support

I am a proud 1996 graduate of Eastern Illinois University. Since those days I had always hoped to send my children to college and until recently expected to do so. But I am alarmed by Illinois’ decreasing lack of commitment to affordable higher education. I am beginning to fear that I will have to watch my children’s dreams of a college education disappear. When I attended EIU a years tuition and fees were about $4,000 and today it has ballooned to $11,500. Although the true cost of a college education has undoubtedly increased during the years, a large part of this increase is the result of governmental indifference, and sometimes outright hostility toward higher education. To illustrate the state’s indifference if not hostility, the state now covers about twenty percent of the cost of educating our children at our public universities. This is an outrageous decline from sixty percent or so during my days at EIU in the mid 90’s. And now I read a Pew poll that discovered most Republicans now boldly express a negative view of a college education! The poll reminded me that Coles County’s elected representatives, both proud Republicans, refused to fully fund EIU not all that long ago. Even now EIU is burdened by insufficient funding. One might think that Springfield’s support could go no lower, but I can’t forget the disastrous cuts our county’s elected representatives and their governor forced upon Eastern and its students. The cuts still scar not just EIU but also our county, as the empty homes, shuttered businesses, and “for sale” signs attest. Some have said we can and should provide free college tuition to our children. I think it’s time to consider this, before time runs out for my kids and yours.

Brian Reardon, Mattoon

LETTER: Public universities need support

Governors State University Trustees Vote to Freeze Tuition tuition rates for Illinois residents at the state school will remain at $313 per credit hour. School officials say affordability and access to financial aid are essential for students. They say nearly 60 percent of the freshman class received …

Governors State University Trustees Vote to Freeze Tuition

WIU enrollment drop impacts bus services officials in McDonough County said that if the drop in Western Illinois University enrollment continues, they may have to cut bus routes and the number of buses available. Isai Lopez lives a mile from the WIU campus and relies on McDonough County Public Transportation to get to and …

WIU enrollment drop impacts bus services

Local higher ed leaders pick apart pension reform ideas

CHARLESTON — The details surrounding Gov. Bruce Rauner’s plan to reform the state pension system are still murky, but what is known is worrisome for local higher education institutions.

The governor spoke on the need for pension reform a couple of weeks ago in a budget address to state lawmakers. During this address, he proposed shifting pension costs more locally in 25 percent increments per year.

“Our budget proposal shifts costs closer to home, so people can question expenses and deal with them more directly,” Rauner stated in his address.

Officials at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston and Mattoon’s Lake Land College are concerned about looking at potentially steep additional expenditures with little support in paying for it.

Paul McCann, EIU vice president for business affairs, is critical of the plan. Simply put, it doesn’t work for the university as it has been presented, he said.

Based on calculations made by the State University Retirement System (SURS), Eastern would have had to pay $8.6 million in pension costs to the defined benefit and contribution plans for current employees in 2017. This number is not necessarily reflective of what the cost might be, though, which is still under wraps.

From McCann’s perspective, the governor is asking for state universities to not increase tuition, bear heavy additional costs and not get any more state money to help offset those bills.

Rauner’s plan did include offset funds, including an additional $205 million in appropriations in FY19 to help universities out, but McCann is dubious.

“Right now, the state doesn’t have any money,” McCann said. “Why are we promising additional money?”

McCann said there might be ways this would be sustainable for the university but not under the current pension system and not without more control over their own plans. The state currently controls the pension system.

“So if the theory is, we are going to pass those costs on to you, then we need control over our pension plan,” McCann said. “We couldn’t afford the pension plan the state has provided.”

It is not reasonable to think the university can cut costs to budget enough to make it “palatable,” he said.

The only solution the university would have to combat these costs is raising tuition.

“What else are you going to do?” McCann said. “Where is the money going to come from? We are talking real money here. And, we are going to have to fund it currently, not like the state is doing it.”

Lake Land is in a similar boat.

“We are concerned with the prospect of shifting state obligations onto the local community college district and our students, thus diverting resources away from the college’s primary academic mission,” Lake Land spokeswoman Kelly Allee said in a statement.

Allee indicated that it was too early to comment further without concrete details.

It could work, McCann said, but only if the system itself changes and not simply who is paying the bill.

“Now, they have no incentive to manage costs because the state picks them up no matter what they are. When they are responsible for paying the bill, there will be plenty of incentive to lower costs,” Rauner argued in his speech.

State Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, previously indicated he was in support of the initiative behind the plan. Righter applauded the initiative behind the plan without outright supporting it following Rauner’s speech.

“In order to balance the budget, tough choices need to be made,” Righter said.

For Righter, the move is inevitable and necessary.

“That is something that is going to happen,” Righter said. “The question is when is it going to happen and over what period of time is that going to happen.”

Local higher ed leaders pick apart pension reform ideas

Illinois needs to keep its best students

Increasingly, Illinois high school seniors are choosing to take their education elsewhere — out of state.

A recent Associated Press story detailed how 46 percent of the state’s high school graduates seeking higher education now go to college in other states. That figure is up markedly compared to 2002, when it was 29 percent.

Enrollment at the state’s public universities has dropped from 204,781 in 2009 to 188,405, a loss of 16,376. It’s as though one college just disappeared.

There are two problems here. The first is the economic effect of lost students: fewer persons paying rent, buying groceries and so on. The second, more serious problem, is the brain drain. Many of the brightest are going elsewhere, and many won’t return.

Illinois has lost population for years. Certainly the state’s budget debacle does not help, nor does the steady drumbeat for higher taxes. If you succeed in Illinois, you will pay more. Those most likely to succeed are trying their luck elsewhere. With 40 years of a professional career ahead of you, Illinois is a tough sell.

A bill in the Illinois legislature aims to address some of the decline. The plan involves simplifying college applications, guaranteeing admission for “B” students and shifting more student aid to the best students to keep them home.

States have long competed to keep businesses by luring them with tax deals. Illinois needs to remember some people are leaving or staying based on the same principles. Are our costs reasonable, weighed against our benefits?

Illinois needs to keep its best students