Enrollment is down, prospective college students are ready to go out of state and there are questions if some colleges can continue to keep their doors open because of a lack of state tax dollars for higher education eight months into the fiscal year. That’s according to the Coalition to fund higher education.
Dave Tretter, President of the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges, said “I think we’re past the point of telling the public and our students what might happen, we can now demonstrate what is happening.”
“And what that means is that most colleges and universities have depleted their reserves,” Tretter said, “bent over backwards to try to maintain a continuity for the students to continue and now we’re two semesters in and that is close to running out and you’re starting to see enrollment numbers drop.”
Other speakers at Monday’s news conference held at University of Illinois, Springfield, said they worry students are ready to leave the state for other funding opportunities.
However, UIS Chancellor Susan Koch said they’re weathering the storm, though it’s been difficult, “thanks in part to the increase in enrollment to our campus, but it’s very, very difficult.”
“Of course we’re doing all the other things that you would expect any institution to do in these circumstances,” Koch said. “We’re just spending less in every area of the budget, we’re very carefully scrutinizing every expenditure and it’s just very, very difficult.”
Senator Dick Durbin had choice words for the lack of funding for higher education and tuition assistance grants.
“That is a sad commentary on this great state,” Durbin said. “It embarrases me.”
Durbin said not to expect a federal bailout. However, he suggested a possible fix for Illinois’ leaders to come to an agreement.
“This Wednesday the governor is going to give his budget message,” Durbin said. “When he is in the capitol, he’ll be there with the leaders of the House and the Senate. I propose that Jesse White lock the doors and say ‘you stay until you get the job done.’”
While one union member speaking Monday blamed the governor for not passing a budget and for holding higher ed hostage, Tretter said it’s not healthy to point fingers.
“You have to look at leadership in the General Assembly and the governor getting together,” Tretter said. “I don’t know if it serves a great purpose to point fingers exactly at who’s at fault but clearly we’ve never been this far into the budget process without a budget.”
The state’s Democrats are set to advanced a bill to the governor’s desk to fund tuition assistance grants and community colleges Tuesday, but Governor Bruce Rauner and Republican legislators say the bill isn’t funded. The GOP says their plan would fund tuition grants, community colleges and higher education with companion legislation to allow the governor to manage the budget in other ways, including unpopular fund sweeps.