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

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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

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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

Spotlight: Slashing college funding hypocritical, counterproductive

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Peoria and Caterpillar are closely linked, and for many good economic reasons. But as you cross into the city on I-74 over the Illinois River, it’s hard to think another set of employers generating more than $400 million a year locally could be ignored. Yet that’s exactly what is happening at the state Capitol.

In his budget address, Gov. 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 Illinois colleges and universities are only an extreme example of 15 years of devaluing and dismantling this state’s once nationally ranked higher education system.

Higher education has its perception problems: 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 Peoria, Bradley University, Methodist College and Illinois Central College generate 1,800 jobs and $415 million in local economic impact. That is far from unique. From Rockford to Carbondale, Quincy to Champaign, colleges and universities drive local economies and prepare our next generation of workers and leaders. Yet the longer this budget impasse runs, the more paralyzed our system becomes — and the more the costs of this crisis grow.

We take higher education 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 in providing higher average salaries, better health, longer employment, more tax support for local services and more.

As the House, Senate and governor debate approving a full-year budget or more short-term help, higher education withers away. It’s not that our policymakers can’t recognize the need for urgent action. When Exelon, Sears and CME needed help, or when other businesses asked for incentives to stay and expand here, those calls were 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.

Slashing higher ed is hypocritical and counterproductive. Students are choosing out-of-state schools or skipping college altogether. Others decide not to come back after going away. Talented faculty and staff are laid off or leaving for opportunities elsewhere.

Until the trend in funding for higher education is reversed, the promise of a better Illinois is an illusion.

 

David W. Tretter is president of the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities and a leader of the Illinois Coalition to Invest in Higher Education. He lives in Springfield.

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May 12, 2017 at 11:50AM

Spotlight: Slashing college funding hypocritical, counterproductive

Spotlight: Slashing college funding hypocritical, counterproductive

http://ift.tt/2qeTJmQ


Peoria and Caterpillar are closely linked, and for many good economic reasons. But as you cross into the city on I-74 over the Illinois River, it’s hard to think another set of employers generating more than $400 million a year locally could be ignored. Yet that’s exactly what is happening at the state Capitol.

In his budget address, Gov. 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 Illinois colleges and universities are only an extreme example of 15 years of devaluing and dismantling this state’s once nationally ranked higher education system.

Higher education has its perception problems: 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 Peoria, Bradley University, Methodist College and Illinois Central College generate 1,800 jobs and $415 million in local economic impact. That is far from unique. From Rockford to Carbondale, Quincy to Champaign, colleges and universities drive local economies and prepare our next generation of workers and leaders. Yet the longer this budget impasse runs, the more paralyzed our system becomes — and the more the costs of this crisis grow.

We take higher education 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 in providing higher average salaries, better health, longer employment, more tax support for local services and more.

As the House, Senate and governor debate approving a full-year budget or more short-term help, higher education withers away. It’s not that our policymakers can’t recognize the need for urgent action. When Exelon, Sears and CME needed help, or when other businesses asked for incentives to stay and expand here, those calls were 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.

Slashing higher ed is hypocritical and counterproductive. Students are choosing out-of-state schools or skipping college altogether. Others decide not to come back after going away. Talented faculty and staff are laid off or leaving for opportunities elsewhere.

Until the trend in funding for higher education is reversed, the promise of a better Illinois is an illusion.

 

David W. Tretter is president of the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities and a leader of the Illinois Coalition to Invest in Higher Education. He lives in Springfield.

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May 12, 2017 at 11:50AM

Spotlight: Slashing college funding hypocritical, counterproductive

My View: Illinois must invest in higher education to grow its economy

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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 2000-15 – 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.

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.

David W. Tretter,  is president of the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities, and a leader of the Illinois Coalition to Invest in Higher Education

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May 12, 2017 at 05:25AM

My View: Illinois must invest in higher education to grow its economy

Commentary: Impasse paralyzes college futures

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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 to 2015 — 36 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.

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.

David W. Tretter is president of the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities and a leader of the Illinois Coalition to Invest in Higher Education.

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May 3, 2017 at 09:03PM

Commentary: Impasse paralyzes college futures

Guest View: No plan, no future in Illinois

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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 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.





David W. Tretter is President of the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities, and a leader of the Illinois Coalition to Invest in Higher Education



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May 3, 2017 at 07:06PM

Guest View: No plan, no future in Illinois