Illinois Higher Education Community Rallies to Solve Budget Crisis

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On Tuesday, southern Illinois students, administrators, and community leaders — who make up the Coalition to Invest in Higher Education — gathered in Springfield, Ill., to rally together in hopes of encouraging lawmakers to pass a bill that offers a solution to the state budget crisis.

Since July, Illinois public colleges and universities haven’t received state funding due to the legislature’s failure to approve a budget. In turn, institutions have been forced to cut spending and deny funding for MAP grants — state-sponsored aid for low-income students — to students who desperately need financial assistance.

The proposed bill would reinstate MAP-grant funding and continue state funding for many public institutions. However, four-year colleges are excluded from this proposal, meaning their funding would continue to be withheld.

Southern Illinois University (SIU) System President Randy Dunn is urging lawmakers to promptly end the crisis before the state of Illinois loses students to other nearby states.

“… We have to come together and get this work done. … We’re seeing this incremental dismantlement, this piece by piece taking apart [of] colleges and universities that just 20 years ago were held up as among the best community college and public university systems in the country,” he said in a statement.

Chicago State University was the first institution to announce it wouldn’t be able to make its payroll in March if funding continues to be withheld. Also, on Monday, Eastern Illinois University announced nearly 200 layoffs due to the budget crisis, and Western Illinois University in Macomb is letting go 30 faculty members in an effort to save $2 million.

Dunn said SIU is in a better place than other Illinois colleges and universities. The university system has cut 9 percent of its budget in anticipation of the state’s cuts, but it has yet to experience any crucial problems. However, Dunn added that SIU can only wait till the end of the fiscal year, on June 30, before the lack of funding becomes problematic.

“We’re all approaching that cliff,” Dunn said. “We know what’s ahead for all of us if this doesn’t get figured out.”

First-generation college student Larissa Harrington, from Greenville College, is a MAP-grant recipient. She explained how her expectations of graduating in Illinois have become limited due to the state’s inability to resolve this crisis.

“That’s $5,000 that I don’t have,” Harrington said in a statement. “Keep your promise to the students of this state. … State legislators have to act with integrity on this issue. They keep telling us education is so important. If it’s so important, why aren’t you funding it?”

Speakers urged Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign the bill even though it currently won’t cover funding for four-year institutions. However, Dunn said that higher education also carries some of the responsibility for managing funds and ensuring a quality education.

“There is a need to look at how we can get certain costs under control,” he said. “We are going to play our part to help our beloved state of Illinois solve this crisis. But it’s not on our backs alone.”

Gov. Rauner’s upcoming budget address is scheduled for February 17, when he will provide more details about future plans concerning the state’s budget.