News Local/State

Hundreds Rally For Higher Education Funding In Springfield


Illinois colleges and universities have cut staff, eliminated programs and threatened to close, all because they've gone nine months without money from state government. As hundreds of people rallied in Springfield Wednesday to push for state cash for higher education, there was news of more possible layoffs, this time at the University of Illinois.

The U of I seemed to have been holding up well under the state budget standoff. So it was big news that the school's flagship Urbana-Champaign campus is considering layoffs later this year.

Word of the potential cuts came as hundreds of people rallied for higher education in the Capitol building.

The rally attracted more than 1,000 demonstrators, according to the Associated Press. It came the week after Western Illinois University in Macomb announced 110 more layoffs.

Western employee Shelia Kuck drove down from Macomb with her son Max to participate in the rally. She says she has to find another job.

"I'm very frustrated with the budget impasse issues and I recieved a 30-day layoff notice as of yesterday,” said Kuck.

What makes the news about possible layoffs at the U of I so alarming is that it has more financial resources than other public universities. With a substantial endowment and a pool of wealthy alumni, it’s less dependent on state money.

But Western, Eastern, Southern and Chicago State University — all of which have laid off staff or threatened to do so — serve large populations of low-income and minority students. They also educate many older and first-generation college students — like Darren Martin.

The 36-year-old is a senior at Chicago State University, studying early childhood education. He won't graduate for another year because he has to complete his student teaching --- if he can find the money. He was using state tuition assistance — known as MAP grants — to help cover the cost until a budget is passed.

"The part that I owe would be covered by MAP grant if there was a budget passed, but unfortunately there hasn't been a budget passed,” said Martin. “So I've had to ask my mother who's 73, my auntie who's in her 70s to help fund my last part of my education."

Chicago State University might soon close if state funding doesn't come soon. It’s already compressed the current semester by eliminating spring break, and will hold its graduation ceremony next week.

Emily Miller, with the advocacy group Voices for Illinois Children, says the lack of state funding is particularly hard on students who depend on MAP grants.

"So, if you remove their access to higher education, you're really removing the option of higher education for an entire class of people,” said Miller.

Miller says beyond Chicago State, other schools may also run out of money. She says once they close, they're almost certainly gone for good.

"If there are no revenue solutions and there is no money to pump into higher education, they will go under,” said Miller. “That is not a possibility, it is going to happen.”

Even though the University of Illinois seems to be in better shape, U of I senior and Student Body President Mitch Dickey says the budget impasse has faculty leaving Illinois for opportunities elsewhere.

"I actually saw one of my own professors in the airport,” said Dickey. “He works in Texas because of all the things that's been happening in the state."

Illinois lawmakers are considering a couple stop-gap measures to prop up public universities for a few months. But neither plan would give universities anywhere near the amount of money they’ve been waiting on since last summer.