Higher education in Illinois has been caught in a continuing battle over the budget. Public universities have struggled to make ends meet without any state aid in the first eight months of this fiscal year.
Several leaders from Illinois’ public universities spoke before a Senate Committee Hearing on Thursday regarding funding for higher education.
WIU President Jack Thomas told senators Thursday that higher education is on the verge of collapse without state intervention. He said Western is having to cut $20-million from it's budget, laying off 100 employees and imposing furlough days all while students are leaving for colleges out of state.
"Individuals want to know whether or not we're going to be open so that they can do four or five years at our institution," Thomas said. "And not just those prospective students, our current students are questioning us."
Western is one of several universities in Illinois that was losing students even before the political stalemate. Minority students makeup about half of Western’s student body and about 40% are the first in their family to attend college.
EIU President David Glassman told lawmakers the school needs the state's support to survive, but it's not getting that help because lawmakers in both political parties won't reach a compromise on legislation.
He said the layoffs and cutbacks at the state’s public universities and community colleges seem to the result of political gamesmanship.
"Proposal after proposal is filed and lobbed across the aisle only to meet quick defeat or eventual demise," he said.
Democrats blame Republican Governor Bruce Rauner for vetoing legislation that would have sent community colleges money, and reimbursed universities for low-income students' tuition waivers. Republicans favor other ways of funding higher education, but they said Democrats won't call them for votes.
SIU President Randy Dunn told Illinois lawmakers that the current budget impasse is affecting the schools daily operations and hurting recruitment.
“If there’s any question about whether or not we are in crisis, the people within the region, the footprint of southern Illinois, believe that we are,” Dunn said. “And they’re concerned about this great legacy of SIU is about to be lost on their watch.”
Dunn said SIU may look dramatically different if proposed cuts to higher education are enacted in Springfield.
Prior to his Senate committee testimony, Dunn released a memo to SIU staff outlining the cuts that would result from the governor’s proposed 20% reduction to higher education is enacted. The scenario includes hundreds of jobs lost, classes cut, and programs either reduced or eliminated.