Higher Education Officials: Lack Of State Budget Is Crippling Operations

October 05, 2015
 
A water tower on the Eastern Illinois University campus.

A water tower on the Eastern Illinois University campus.

Hannah Meisel/Illinois Public Media

Leaders of several state universities and community colleges are sounding the alarm as they begin month three of receiving no money from Illinois. State support for Illinois’ 12 public universities and its 49 community colleges is the largest part of the state government that isn’t being funded during Springfield’s budget impasse.

While the state’s bigger schools, like the University of Illinois, are able to truck along without much impact on students, the situation at Eastern Illinois University is more dire, officials say.

EIU President David Glassman told lawmakers at a hearing Monday that if the state doesn’t pass a budget, the school is in danger of shutting down operations during the spring semester.

Eastern has already dipped into savings and eliminated 159 workers from its staff, saving $12 million dollars this year. But Glassman says any further cuts could mean potentially irreversible economic loss for the region and state.

The state also isn't paying out money for the Monetary Award Program, or MAP grants, which provide state support for needy college students. With no budget some universities have been fronting the money for these MAP-eligible students since July first. But officials say they can’t keep doing so after this semester.

That worries Jose Durbin, a junior at EIU studying political science. Durbin says he’s maxed out on student loans; he already has a partial tuition waiver and federal PELL grants. Durbin’s mother is sick, and his parents’ recently foreclosed home means Durbin can’t use their credit to apply for certain loans, so MAP grants are a lifeline.

“It’s kind of disheartening to see that both parties can't come together and pass a budget in Springfield for the MAP grants," he said. "Every other organization has someone fighting for them and higher education doesn’t have anyone fighting for them.”

Durbin (no relation to U.S. Senator Dick Durbin [D-Illinois]) says he’d eventually like to get into state politics, and maybe run for the General Assembly one day. But to do that, he’s got to finish college.

To cut spending during the state’s partial government shutdown, Illinois State University has already implemented a hiring freeze and eliminated 76 positions, in addition to delaying noncritical construction projects.

ISU President Larry Dietz says he’s not prepared to make cuts that would affect students’ academic paths, like cutting classes.

“To me, we have an ethical contract with students whenever we admit them," he said. "We have an obligation to help them achieve their academic goals. And if we should shortchange them on that, to me, that’s just not the right thing to do.”

Dietz says ISU can dip into savings for the time being, but the uncertainty of the state’s budget situation makes it difficult to plan how much to use and how much to save.

Story source: WILL