Western Illinois University’s received $6.8 million from the state this month. President Jack Thomas said all of the money went to the university's first priority, which is paying employees.
It was the first state aid payment under Illinois’ new budget. Lawmakers were able to override Republican Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto and finally pass a budget deal after the state went two full years without a budget.
Western will receive $46.3 million in state appropriations this fiscal year, which is roughly 10% less than the last full budget appropriation in 2015.
Thomas said the budget impasse made some people hesitant to attend Illinois colleges and universities. But he believes the budget deal shows things are moving forward. “This restores their faith, this restores their hope, and it diminishes the crisis of confidence in our state," Thomas said.
During the two year budget impasse, Western and other public universities in Illinois depleted their reserves in order to keep the doors open with little financial help from the state.
Thomas said he’s unsure when the next state appropriation check will arrive given the state's bill backlog. He said in years past it was customary for the Illinois Comptroller’s Office to establish a payment plan and note the exact date money would be available.
Thomas said from time to time the state would miss a deadline and the university would have to get by without funding for a while. He said Western is no longer in a position to do that and it needs money coming in regularly.
“Hopefully, they will be on time with payments because due to the budget impasse, we have had to use all of our funding in terms of our reserves. So we have no reserves to float the state,” Thomas said.
Illinois lawmakers also promised to fund MAP grants for low-income students this year and reimburse Western for picking up the tab last year. Thomas said Western stepped in because so many students are low-income or the first in their family to go to college and they rely on MAP funding.
“I remember the first time we had to cover the MAP funding for our students. They sent emails to me, phone calls and even messages on social media saying ‘Thank you.’ They said, ‘I don’t know how I would have made it or whether or not I would have been able to come back to college had it not been for the university being so generous in supporting us.’ Our students need those funds and they are very appreciative."
Thomas hopes the state’s new budget and promised funding for higher education translates into fewer students leaving Illinois and a higher enrollment this fall at Western.