Valerie Jarrett won’t charge NEIU for graduation speech

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Valerie Jarrett won’t charge NEIU for graduation speech

Valerie Jarrett

Valerie Jarrett | Courtesy of Chicago Network

Valerie Jarrett won’t collect a speaking fee for her commencement speech at cash-strapped Northeastern Illinois University.

Jarrett has spoken with the university president and will not be taking a speaking fee, a Jarrett spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The university said Monday it had found a donor to pay the $30,000 speaking fee after the school was criticized for agreeing to pay the former presidential adviser at a time staff is being forced to take unpaid days off.

“While keenly aware of the financial challenges in Illinois, we were not aware of the specific issues facing Northeastern Illinois University or that a donor would be paying for the speaking fee. Jarrett notified President Helldobler this morning that she will not be accepting a speaking fee for the commencement address. Jarrett looks forward to addressing the graduates and other members of the NEIU community next month,” Jarrett spokeswoman Amy Brundage said.


Previously from Chicago News


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April 11, 2017 at 02:41AM

Valerie Jarrett won’t charge NEIU for graduation speech

Governor, start fixing higher ed in Illinois: How to pour more spending into classrooms and labs

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Gridlock in Springfield is strangling public college finances statewide. The latest casualty: Northeastern Illinois University announced it will cancel three days of classes to cut costs. “On a scale of 1 to 10, my frustration level is at a 22,” says interim President Richard Helldobler.

Other state universities have laid off employees, cut academic and athletic programs, imposed furloughs, postponed maintenance projects, delayed payments to vendors and drained cash reserves.

One alarming result: Students flee to neighboring states with steadier finances and, in some cases, more specialized campuses. In 2015, about 45 percent of high school grads bolted Illinois to attend college, compared with 29 percent who left the state in 2002. Many of these young expats will never return to live and work near their families in Illinois.

Look at the enrollment declines in the graphic accompanying this editorial. Some universities are shrinking away.

It’s a brain drain Illinois can’t afford. How do lawmakers and educators stop it?

Think big. Unify and reorder a university system that foolishly has nine separate boards overseeing 12 state-owned universities. Structure higher ed for an era of pinched budgets. Make schools more accountable for student learning and graduation rates. Streamline procurement and other business operations, then pour a bigger percentage of spending into classrooms and labs. Make sure Illinois never again tolerates a debacle like Chicago State University‘s 11 percent graduation rate. Yes, 11 percent.

Gov. Bruce Rauner asks the right question: Given student demand, does Illinois have too many public universities trampling the same turf? “We have an ecosystem, but we have not been strategic about them working together and about location of that capability,” Rauner says, according to the Peoria Journal Star. “We’ve got to be thoughtful about which degrees (schools) offer. I believe in specialization and being great at certain things and not trying to be OK at a bunch of stuff. Do we need every school to offer the exact same stuff, but they’re two hours from each other? Should we think more strategically about the offerings?”

Yes. Right now, when Illinoisans see the unaffordability of today’s often-redundant campuses and their dwindling enrollments. Yes, students at every school should be able to sample a range of subjects. But if many campuses have only average engineering programs, why not combine talent and resources to create exceptional, maybe world-class programs on one, two or three campuses? Let the schools with so-so engineering programs instead build unique expertise in other fields — humanities, education, fine arts, technology, business, health sciences.

Like a smart corporate consolidation, the idea here is to intensify limited resources in ways that produce excellent — not weak or middling — outcomes.

We’ve heard legislators whisper about merging Eastern Illinois University with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Chicago State with the University of Illinois at Chicago. But those are think-small ideas.

Governor, don’t waste this crisis. Create a master plan to replace Illinois’ balkanized structure of higher ed. There’s a strong model across the border: Wisconsin’s single, centrally-overseen and multitiered system of 26 campuses offering 250 majors. New York and some other states have comparable systems. Illinois students, too, could prosper under a system that deploys resources effectively and sets high expectations for campuses statewide. Unifying schools, of course, would anger politicians who defend fiefdoms in Carbondale or Charleston or Chicago.

Illinois once had a more centralized system that delivered excellent results for students. But in 1995, the General Assembly dismantled what was known as the “system of systems.” One reason: more “local control.” Of state universities? A bigger reason: Some pols were miffed that their alma maters didn’t have separate governing boards like the U. of I.’s.

A 2011 University of Pennsylvania study says Illinois’ 1995 shift to more local control aggravated two problems:

• “An inability to establish shared state goals and priorities for higher education.”

• “A failure to allocate resources strategically to meet state goals and priorities.”

Any plan to unify oversight — let alone to scale back or mothball campuses — will rouse clout-heavy college administrators and alumni to fiercely defend their empires. Ditto the pols, who cherish every misspent dollar that flows into local economies via the colleges.

But the higher ed cash trough is dry. Southern Illinois University President Randy Dunn warned lawmakers last month that “As we go into this next phase of the crisis, with no budget in sight, SIU and many other universities are going to be forced to dismantle and remove units of university operations. If we don’t find a way forward, we have a lot of universities getting ready to walk off the cliff.”

Maybe some should, so others can thrive. Illinois needs one powerful university system with strong oversight, built on this mission: Focus less on this haphazard, redundant sprawl of campuses. Focus more on educating students. And keep more of them in Illinois.

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April 7, 2017 at 09:30AM

Governor, start fixing higher ed in Illinois: How to pour more spending into classrooms and labs

Tax, budget group’s director: Higher-ed cuts aren’t helping

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URBANA — State budget cuts in higher education and other areas are having a devastating impact on traditionally disadvantaged populations, the director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability told a group at the University of Illinois on Monday evening.

Ralph Martire, executive director of the group, said that Illinois needs to broaden its sales-tax base to include more services and should raise its income tax rate (now 3.75 percent) to about 5.25 percent in order to begin resolving its budget problems.

He insisted that the about $7 billion more going into the state’s treasury would have no effect on the Illinois economy.

“When your net tax increase takes less than 5 percent of the economic activity of the governmental entity being studied, it’s too small to be measured,” said Martire, a longtime advocate of more taxation in Illinois. “Put it in context: We have a $770 billion economy. The answer is it will do nothing.

“There is no statistically meaningful correlation between tax policy and economic growth,” he said. “Some of the fastest-growing economies are in high-tax states and some of the fastest-growing economies are in low-tax states. It’s other things that drive economic growth. It’s not tax policy.”

Martire, whose appearance was arranged by state Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, also said he has given up on a proposal he once championed to enact a graduated income tax in the state.

Illinois now has a flat income tax and, coincidentally, Ammons and a group of legislative Democrats last week said they would renew their call for a so-called progressive tax.

No dice, Martire said.

“When the Democrats had a veto-proof majority in the House and the Senate and the governor’s office, they couldn’t get an amendment (to the state Constitution) to the voters to vote on a graduated tax,” he said. “I’m thinking it ain’t happening now when you don’t have a veto-proof majority of Democrats in the House and you have a somewhat conservative Republican governor,” he said, referring to Bruce Rauner.

Marrure said his group still thinks a graduated income tax is “good tax policy,” but “we don’t work on it at all anymore. The state really needs the money now.”

And if the Legislature and Rauner wait until next year to raise taxes, Martire said, the state would need a 5.5 percent or 5.75 percent income tax rate.

“At some point, if they wait too long, it will be politically undoable, and I don’t know what happens,” he said.

Martire said the state’s recent efforts, including eliminating MAP grants for low-income students, cutting budgets at universities that serve disadvantaged students and forcing schools to raise tuition, are “horrible public policy.”

“Where were our biggest cuts focused? At the universities that catered primarily to minority and low-income populations. It’s really a double-negative whammy from an economic and social-justice standpoint,” he said. “All the economic data show that having access to higher levels of learning is crucial if they’re going to be viable in the modern economy. Yet the state of Illinois has decided to disinvest significantly in all of its universities but in particular those that cater to low-income and minority students.”

And the increased debt on the poorest Illinois families is devastating, he said.

“So they’re going to be burdened with student debt, they’re not going to have the credentials that will get them higher-paying, good-benefit jobs, and they’re going to be going back to their community to do what? It’s horrible public policy,” Martire argued.

“When you really connect the dots, you see that everything the state of Illinois is doing is reinforcing past discrimination. It is creating obstacles to economic advancement for traditionally disadvantaged populations. We have literally done everything wrong if what you’re doing is trying to create access to economic opportunity.”

Martire cautiously avoided blaming any current politicians for the state’s woeful financial condition. But he said that the state’s “disinvestment” in higher education made no sense.

“What is going on with funding higher education at the state level is historic, and not in a good way. This is not a time when this state ought to be disinvesting in its higher-education system,” he said. “Public institutions of higher learning are crucial elements in the network that needs to be available if lower- to lower-middle-income students are to move up the economic ladder.”

He said the state “doesn’t value its higher education,” citing statistics that show that in both real and inflation-adjusted dollars, higher-education funding has dropped since 2000.

“That is a stunning data point. You go back 15 years and see less in nominal dollars being devoted to higher education,” he said. “Illinois is an outlier when compared to other states.”

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April 4, 2017 at 12:17AM

Tax, budget group’s director: Higher-ed cuts aren’t helping

Group tallies the horrid cost of Illinois’ budget war

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After two years of unending Springfield war between Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Mike Madigan, a lot of folks have grown numb to the human cost. But not the Responsible Budget Coalition.

The social services group this afternoon released a list of who’s taking it in the ear and how badly, and it’s ugly.

Like the 22,000 seniors outside of Chicago who have lost access to home-delivered meals and transportation. Or $2.3 billion in cuts in higher education, cuts that have clobbered mid-range schools like Southern, Eastern and Western Illinois University, and Chicago State University.

Or the tuition grants for 130,000 college students of modest means that again are unfunded, or the 47,000 fewer kids receiving affordable child care so their parents can be productive and hold down a job.

Other items on a disturbing list: No new money for domestic abuse programs since June of last year, 24,000 fewer people admitted to addiction treatment programs at a time of opioid abuse and a 50 percent cut in adult literacy programs.

No, I haven’t personally vetted these services or done the math myself. But if the toll is even half this—and I don’t hear officials on either side of the war denying it—this situation is a disgrace.

Read it yourself, folks. Then think about calling your lawmaker and governor to get them off the dime. As I reported in my column over the weekend about why progress is stalled on sensible plans to sell the James R. Thompson Center in the Loop and add new lanes in I-55 (the Stevenson Expressway), something has to change.

Read more:

What cities and towns want out of Springfield
Rich Miller: Getting to ‘yes’ in Springfield: Is it doable?
How one campaign’s rhetoric could widen Springfield’s partisan divide

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April 3, 2017 at 05:03PM

Group tallies the horrid cost of Illinois’ budget war

Dunn visits SIUE to discuss Illinois budget crisis

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SIU President Randy Dunn and SIUE Chancellor Randy Pembrook addressed a room full of SIUE students, faculty and staff April 30 to answer questions about Dunn’s recent proposal to borrow money from Edwardsville to keep the SIU Carbondale campus operational.

Dunn announced his decision March 29, in his column, “The System Connection,” which also said Carbondale will have to be making around $30 million in cuts. He said Carbondale is projected to be in deficit spending within the next month.

Dunn said he can identify the $30 million worth of cuts Carbondale has to make.

“If I was put in a room and told to do it, I know it can be done,” Dunn said.

Although the campus will definitely have to make millions of dollars in cuts next year assuming a budget will not pass, Edwardsville is in much better shape. The money Carbondale will be borrowing will come from Edwardsville’s unrestricted funds, which Dunn said should not have any impact on the day to day operations of the Edwardsville campus.

Dunn assured the SIUE community that Carbondale will pay back the money. The time frame is not confirmed yet, but Dunn said it depends on whether or not the state provides stopgap funding to the university.

Aside from lack of state funding, Carbondale’s situation has been affected by a lower student enrollment and failure to make proper cuts in the past.

“Even if we come back with a sizable cash infusion on a stopgap, and we get a [2017-18] budget, Carbondale has to go in and do these things anyway,” Dunn said.

Edwardsville, on the other hand, has had increasing enrollment numbers and has made cuts over the past couple of years, putting it in a slightly better position.

The decision did not sit well with some members of the SIUE community, like Institutional Research and Studies Director Phil Brown.

“I find this incredibly demoralizing,” Brown said. “After all these years of SIUE cutting, being efficient and doing more and more with less and less, it’s just hard to face another round of cuts when the impression is Carbondale hasn’t done any of this.”

Dunn said he understands the frustration, and he knows Carbondale will have to make much bigger cuts than the $20 million it has cut over the past two years to deal with the structural budget problem the campus has.

“They have to tackle this structural deficit of having too much program for too few kids. As enrollments dropped over the years at Carbondale, the inventory has not been adjusted with it. In fact, it’s almost been ignored,” Dunn said.

Another concern was brought up by Student Body President Luke Jansen. Since both Dunn and Pembrook’s announcements were only sent out to faculty and staff, Jansen said he was concerned with the lack of communication to the students on campus.

“Students did not receive either of your statements, and that concerns me a lot, considering that we’re talking about student money,” Jansen said during the Q&A.

Pembrook said there has been question about the best way to deliver this kind of information to students in the past, but he can send emails out to students as long as it is effective.

Besides the student communication issue, Jansen said he understands the need for SIUE to help SIUC. He said the schools are like a family, and they need to work together to keep each other going.

“Essentially, it’s not exactly ideal for us. However, this is what part of being in a system of schools is. We’ve got to help each other out,” Jansen said.

The Board of Trustees will address the new proposals at its meeting 10 a.m. Thursday, April 6 in Carbondale.

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April 3, 2017 at 02:44PM

Dunn visits SIUE to discuss Illinois budget crisis

Tom Kacich: Killeen, Glassman clash over IPAC’s feasibility

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The superlatives were flying last week when University of Illinois President Tim Killeen met with members of the House Higher Education to explain the UI’s Investment, Performance and Accountability Commitment, a proposal linking annual, stable state funding to a series of performance commitments by the university.

It was Killeen’s second appearance of the month, and it went slightly better than the first one.

But the IPAC isn’t exciting lawmakers, at least in the House. It hasn’t been voted out of the committee yet. A similar Senate bill is set for a hearing this week.

“This is historic. This would be national leadership for the state of Illinois, reimagining the relationship between higher education and the taxpayers of Illinois with performance metrics in hand, with all of these value issues about access, affordability, and all that transpires in an accountable framework,” Killeen told the committee.

“It’s essentially structural reform,” he said. “And for us, for any university in the country to say we’re going to sign up to a graduation rate or a retention rate from freshman to sophomore years, is a big deal. So yes, this is big. It’s a landmark resolution. We realize that.”

There’s still skepticism about the IPAC in the House, and that’s without even broaching the notion that the Legislature is powerless to even talk about a funding commitment while the Disastrous Duo of Rauner & Madigan refuse to work on a budget.

There’s also skepticism, though, from others in the Illinois higher education community, including the president of Eastern Illinois University.

EIU President David Glassman denigrated, in a gentle sort of way, the IPAC idea when he appeared before a Senate committee a day later.

“We’ve been in numerous conversations with similar types of compacts and so on. However I’d have to say that we’re not looking for a promise in order to have great outcomes,” Glassman told senators. “We’re working every single day to continue to have great outcomes for our students, whether it’s in retention or graduation. We don’t need to have that piece sitting there to act as, if you get this you’ll get this.

“We’re going to do that anyway. That’s who we are. That’s what we do.”

In short: EIU is going to give you great outcomes, whether you give us a certain level of funding or not.

“Relative to a predictable and stable budget, we would love that,” Glassman admitted. “But in a compact does that really ensure it from one year to another? We need to look at the state, the General Assembly, the governor as a partner with what we’re trying to do.”

In conclusion, he said, “We should be held accountable. We should be looking at performance. And we should be expecting an appropriate amount of funding to help us keep our universities accessible to the students and the citizens of Illinois.”

EIU and other universities resent the UI plan to expand its enrollment while they are fighting to retain students. And they don’t seem keen on the IPAC.

As written now the deal says that the UI would get $647.18 million every year from the state (with annual increases based on inflation) for five years.

In exchange the UI would guarantee to limit in-state, undergraduate tuition increase to no more than the rate of inflation, and provide $170 million a year in financial aid to in-state students. It also would pledge to admit as new and transfer students 14,000 Illinois residents each year at the Urbana campus, maintain a first- to second-year retention rate of 87 percent and also commit to a 6-year graduation rate of 72 percent.

“We are committed to Illinois families and to a return on our taxpayer base,” Killeen said. “We’re so committed that we’re willing to write it into statute. No one else in the country has done this yet.”

Shimkus foe?

Carl Spoerer of Mahomet says on a campaign website that he will run in Illinois’ 15th Congressional District next year, presumably opposing 11-term incumbent Rep. John Shimkus of Collinsville.

The 15th Congressional District includes parts of Champaign and Ford counties and all of Vermilion, Douglas, Coles, Edgar, Moultrie, Shelby and about 25 other southern Illinois counties.

It is a conservative, heavily Republican district. Donald Trump got 70.12 percent of the presidential vote in the 15th District last year, the highest percentage rate in any of Illinois’ 18 congressional districts by 10 percentage points.

“Resisting Trump begins in the 15th district of Illinois,” it says at the top of Spoerer’s website.

The site describes Spoerer as a “social moderate and a financial conservative. Rather than voting in lockstep with congressional leaders, Carl will be an independent voice who fights to protect Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, education and programs critical to farming communities. Carl’s number one goal for the district is to return the jobs lost over the last 20 years back to the district. Spoerer was not available for comment but his website describes him as a small businessman and coach of the women’s rugby team at the University of Illinois.

Marlin sweep

Diane Marlin, the Democratic candidate for mayor of Urbana, has had a pretty impressive sweep of endorsements this spring, including labor and business groups.

She’s received the backing of Urbana Firefighters Local 1147, Urbana Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 70, the AFL-CIO of Champaign County, the East Central Illinois Building Trades Council and Laborers Local 703.

Marlin, who is up against Republican Rex Bradfield in Tuesday’s voting, also has the endorsement of the Champaign County Business Empowered political action committee, which included a $500 campaign contribution.

Davis campaign fined

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis’ campaign fund, Rodney for Congress, has paid a $3,400 fine assessed by the Federal Election Commission for failing to disclose all financial transactions on a pre-primary election report last spring.

The campaign committee filed an amended pre-primary report last April that disclosed an additional $95,059 in campaign spending.

The fine was first reported by the Belleville News-Democrat.

“(W)e learned some disbursements from this period were inadvertently left off the original report. We have fixed this and included all disbursements in this amendment,” the campaign said at the time.

The Davis campaign was ordered by the FEC to pay the civil penalty and develop and certify implementation of a compliance operations manual with internal controls as described by the FEC.

Davis defeated his primary election opponent last spring, Ethan Vandersand, 77 percent to 23 percent.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette reporter and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at kacich@news-gazette.com.

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April 2, 2017 at 12:28AM

Tom Kacich: Killeen, Glassman clash over IPAC’s feasibility

WIU Board of Trustees approves increases to student fees, room and board,student health insurance

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MACOMB — Starting in the fall, new students at Western Illinois University will pay a bit more in fees, room and board, and health insurance.
The Western Illinois University Board of Trustees unanimously approved the increases during a regular meeting on Friday.
New students on the Macomb campus will pay an additional 73 cents per credit hour in student fees for the fall and spring semesters, while students on the Quad Cities will pay an additional 20 cents per credit hour.
For the summer semester, Macomb campus students will pay an additional 20 cents per credit hour and Quad Cities students will pay an additional 9 cents per credit hour.
A student on the Macomb campus taking 30 credit hours over a full academic year will pay $2,725.50 in student fees, an increase of $21.90.
A student taking 30 credit hours on the Quad Cities campus will pay $746.40, an increase of $6.
The room and board rate will go up $50 per year, or $25 per semester, for new students.
Due to Western’s cost guarantee, which locks in tuition, fees, and room and board for new students who stay enrolled over four continuous years, the new rates only impact new students entering the university in fall.
The new all-cost guarantee for a new student who plans to live in a double-occupancy residence hall room on the Macomb campus will be $20,896.50 per academic year, an increase of $71.90 over the current all-cost guarantee.
At a Dec. 16, 2016, board meeting, trustees voted in favor of keeping tuition flat at $323.64 per credit hour for the 2018 fiscal year.
The room and board increase will generate about $75,000 per year in new revenue for the university, Western’s assistant director of university housing and dining services, Ketra Russell, told trustees on Friday.
However, Russell explained, that amount will fluctuate based on student enrollment, retention, and whether or not a student choses to move off-campus after a year or two in a residence hall.
Additionally, Russell told trustees, the revenue generated from auxiliary services such as room and board, as well as student fees, can only be used to support those auxiliary services.
Associate Vice President of Student Services John Biernbaum told trustees the room and board increase was necessary to counterbalance the loss of auxiliary revenue from large matriculating classes.  
Taking an incremental approach to increasing the room and board rates, Biernbaum said, also prevents the university from having to hit students with one large hike later to make up for lost revenue.
Auxiliary services, Biernbaum added, receive no state funding, and auxiliary services such as dining are market-driven.
On the Macomb campus, the increase in student fees will generate about $50,000 per year in new revenue, according to Matt Bierman, interim vice president of administrative services. As with the new revenue from the room and board hike, Bierman cautioned, the revenue depends on enrollment and retention.
Trustee Lyneir Cole questioned if the increase to student fees was large enough, given that Western, along with other public universities, is grappling with a fiscal crisis resulting from the state budget impasse now in its 21st month, on top of declining enrollment due to fewer students enrolling in four-year universities
Trustee Todd Lester told Cole he believed university administrators had done their due diligence and he had confidence in the recommended increase to student fees.
Cole asked what the estimated $50,000 per year in new student fees revenue would cover.
In response to Cole, Russell said the new revenue would be split among 10 or 12 individual student fees that pay for campus programming, transit such as the Go West bus system, and other student services.
“We worked very closely with our students through this process,” Russell said of the decision to increase student fees. “I’m not sure whether they would have had the stomach to take more than the $10.95 (per semester) that was before them.”
After discussion on the increase to student fees, Cole voted in favor of the resolution, but later raised another concern.
When the board began to discuss the increase to student health insurance, Cole made a motion to table action on the increase until the June meeting so that more cost estimates could be generated. Cole’s motion did not pass and the board continued the discussion.
Digger Oster, assistant to the vice president for administrative services, presented information on the student health insurance. He said the 15 percent hike, which amounts to $220 per academic year, was the lowest estimate the university received and that other state universities are asking students to pay for increases of 20 to 25 percent. Oster also stressed the health insurance benefits will not change, only the cost.
Following discussion, Cole was the only “no” vote on the motion to increase the cost of student health insurance.
In remarks to the Voice after the board meeting, Bierman made it clear that the additional revenue gleaned from hikes to student fees and room/board won’t offset the loss of state appropriated funds.
“These two particular changes don’t affect state resources at all because it’s not appropriated funds,” Bierman said.
“In a vacuum, it would generate $50,000 for fees and $50,000 for room and board. But that’s just for freshmen if they were to remain level.”
Amid the state budget impasse, Western and other public universities have received only a fraction of what they normally receive.
To date, according to Bierman, Western has received $38.8 million in state appropriations and the last funds were received at the end of 2016, when the state’s stopgap budget ran out. As of Feb. 28, Bierman said, the university had an income fund cash balance of $13.6 million.
“We have enough cash to operate the university through the end of this semester,” Bierman said of the university’s financial situation, “and we will go to Springfield next week and let them know what our timelines are and advocate appropriately.”

Reach Lainie Steelman via email at lsteelman@McDonoughVoice.com, or follow her on Twitter@LainieSteelman.

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April 1, 2017 at 01:17AM

WIU Board of Trustees approves increases to student fees, room and board,student health insurance