Illinois higher ed enters second fiscal year with no state funds budgeted

'Students and parents are just worried'

Illinois' public colleges and universities are determining next steps as they approach a second fiscal year beginning July 1 with no state funding budgeted for higher education.

Background on the Illinois budget battle
Illinois budget standoff may mean college closures in spring

The state Legislature has been locked in a budget stalemate with Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) since summer 2015.

Illinois lawmakers decided in April to send funding to the state's public colleges and universities, but the money may not be sufficient to keep schools afloat through the summer.

To keep their doors open, schools are deferring maintenance, redistributing funds designated for special projects, laying off staff, cutting sports teams, and considering cutting academic programs.

State institutions are bracing for continued financial woes after a legislative deadline passed last Tuesday with no resolution. The Chronicle of Higher Education spoke to several Illinois public college officials about how they plan to weather the ongoing budget impasse.

University of Illinois (UI) System

UI System President Timothy Killeen says that while its three campuses have fared well in the midst of the budget crisis and that fall enrollment is projected to increase across the board, there is still cause for concern.

"We have to much more seriously consider options we've had on the table for quite a while," Killeen says, such as cutting academic programs and laying off staff.

Western Illinois University (WIU)

WIU, which has been hit particularly hard by the budget stalemate, predicts a 10% decrease in enrollment this fall.

"Students and parents are just worried," says university spokesperson Darcie Shinberger. "They're watching and waiting to see what's going to happen in this state and whether there's going to be a commitment to funding higher education."

WIU has already laid off 110 staff members and about 40 faculty members who were not tenured. Current faculty will be able to keep their jobs through the next academic year or the subsequent year depending on their contracts. Nearly 500 employees were forced to either take a pay cut or a furlough day each week from April through June.

According to Shinberger, there could be more layoffs and furloughs this summer as university officials seek to make an additional $20 million in cuts over the next two years.

Southern Illinois University (SIU)

SIU has already reduced its summer course offerings, but system President Randy Dunn predicts that enrollment will drop on both of SIU's campuses this fall and that the institutions will have to cut sections of some courses.

The SIU system currently has almost 200 vacant positions. In addition, Dunn says that officials are reviewing SIU's degree programs, and some will likely be dropped by next year.

Exploring alternative budget models

"We try to send a message as strongly as we can that SIU isn't going anywhere," Dunn says. "But sometimes that's a tough sell."

Northeastern Illinois University (NIU)

Having endured a bumpy road, NIU President Sharon Hahs now says the university is "stable." Last year, the university cut 65 staff positions. And all faculty and staff were furloughed for seven weeks this spring, but the directive was lifted after state lawmakers passed the stopgap bill.

But NIU isn't in the clear yet. The university has implemented an across-the-board hiring freeze and plans to rely on more part-time faculty this fall, having lost 12 tenured instructors who are leaving for other schools.

Even though applications have increased for the fall, Hahs remains cautious about NIU's future.

"The key is going to be Illinois's reputation—how big the damage is and whether these students who have been accepted actually do enroll," she says. "It's way too soon to determine that" (Brown, Chronicle of Higher Education, 6/2).

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