Even though the Illinois legislature agreed to maintain higher education funding at current levels, challenges remain for public universities.
Matt Bierman, Budget Director at Western Illinois University, said the school’s budget faces pressure from three sources. One of them is the state – he pointed out Governor Pat Quinn called for a 5% cut to higher education and he has yet to sign the budget approved by lawmakers.
A second “pressure point” is pay raises. Bierman said WIU will do what it can to meet its obligation to pay a 3.5% salary increase that has already been negotiated.
“The reason we’ll be able to provide those is because of the $4.8 million in cuts that were outlined in May,” Bierman said.
Among other things, 26 vacant positions will not be filled and two chair positions will be left open.
The third source of pressure on WIU’s budget is enrollment. Bierman said “the staff is working more diligently than I’ve ever seen them work” in trying to recruit students. However, retention is becoming more of a challenge as more students struggle financially to remain in college.
Despite all the concerns, Bierman remains optimistic.
“I think we’ll come out of this on top in a few years. But it’s still going to be a few more years of some pain and heartache,” Bierman said.
WIU’s tentative budget for Fiscal Year 2014, which begins July 1, is outlined in the chart accompanying this story.
In the chart, “State Appropriated Funds” is the amount of money coming from the state; “University Income Funds” is tuition; “Auxiliary Facilities System Funds” includes room and board, campus recreation fees, and university union fees; and “Other Non-Appropriated Funds” covers all other income, including money from the federal government, athletic ticket sales, and parking fees.
Western is waiting to receive all the state funding allocated for the current fiscal year. Bierman said the state still owes the school $19.6 million. At the same time last year, the state owed WIU $19.1 million. The university did not receive the final payment until the end of December.
Bierman said the final payment is usually made by the end of August in a normal year, plus much less is still owed by the time June rolls around.
He said WIU’s reserves have fluctuated between $5 million and $20 million. The university is generally comfortable with the latter figure, though it might need a bit more in reserves if the state continues to struggle with its cash flow.
“We don’t want to hoard money. That’s not the intent. But we’ve got to make sure we can operate and meet the needs of our employees and can do payroll,” Bierman said.