Illinois Higher Education Facing Future Challenges

HEAG Business Office Operations, Financial Aid Industry News

The state of Illinois went 736 days without a budget deal, but that ended on July 6 as lawmakers overrode Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of a spending bill and tax hike. State universities have now started the school year with the promise of state money from Springfield for the first time in two years. Having no state money led to campus shutdowns, layoffs, program cuts, maintenance failures, and construction delays. Illinois sent more than $1.2 billion to the state’s 12 public universities in 2015, but in the two budget-less years only $996 million in the two years combined. The new budget gives state universities 1.1 billion for 17-18.

University leaders have cautioned, though, that this doesn’t fully solve the financial issues that they have faced. The University of Illinois, for example, will have to move forward this year with a $467 million shortfall in it’s budget.  Southern Illinois University in Carbondale is facing a shortfall of $37.8 million and will have to cut dozens of staff and faculty.

The new budget is especially welcome to low-income students. The deal boosts funding for Monetary Award Program grants and scholarships by 10 percent: $401.3 million for 17-18 compared to $364.8 million in 2015.

The bill also provides another $560.5 million to cover operation costs for 16-17. Those funds, added with the second gap bill from June 2016, gives schools just over $1.2 billion, in line with a typical year of funding. MAP grants for last year, the cost of which some schools absorbed, are fully covered. “It would be difficult to overstate the importance of this funding,” said Joseph King, spokesman for Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, where one-third of students receive MAP grants. “For them, knowing that MAP funding is guaranteed, without the caveat that they may someday be asked to pay it back, provides tremendous peace of mind and allows them to focus on their goal of earning a degree.”

“It is important to keep that momentum going,” Illinois State University President Larry Dietz wrote in a campus message. “There may be a budget in place today, but it will take years of hard work to reverse the damage that has been done.”

Adding to the challenges faced by Illinois, it has the second highest rate nationally of college freshmen choosing to leave the state to pursue higher education, a mark it hit even before the states’ two-year budget impasse. Preliminary figures this fall suggest the numbers continue to look grim.

Out of state migration hit an all-time high between 2000 and 2014 when it went up about 64 percent. Only New Jersey exceeded Illinois in loss of students to out of state schools.