News Local/State

Illinois Higher Education Board Looks to Move Past Budget Impasse, Restore Confidence

WIU President Jack Thomas speaking at an IBHE meeting in Macomb.

WIU President Jack Thomas speaking at the most recent IBHE meeting in Macomb. Emily Boyer/Tri-States Public Radio

Illinois' public colleges and universities have weathered the two year budget impasse and are once again expecting routine state aid payments. As the schools look ahead, they're working to secure their financial footing and publicly rebound from the ordeal.

“We have to look at what is done in terms of the crisis of confidence,” Western Illinois University President Jack Thomas has often said the past few years, referencing the damage done by the two-year state budget impasse when Western had to deplete its reserves and skimp by on infrequent payments from the state.  

Thomas said that crisis of confidence most notably contributed to a further decline in student enrollment. Thomas has said he wants to restore confidence in Western and he’s not alone in that desire.

Illinois Board of Higher Education Chair Tom Cross said, “I think each school — whether it's Western, Southern, U of I or ISU — they all have good stories to tell.”  But he said that narrative has been overshadowed by the politics playing out in Springfield.

“Part of our challenge is telling those stories and getting the word out that you can come to a school in Illinois, graduate on time if you want to, with no debt or very little debt, and you are going to find a job,” Cross said.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education held its most recent quarterly meeting at Western Illinois University’s Macomb campus. Cross told the audience he wanted to see more emphasis put on the positives of higher education instead of the negatives. He said the IBHE could play a role in the effort to sell higher education in Illinois.

He said he wanted to debunk myths: "You’re going to graduate with high debt or it’s cheaper to go out of state, and that’s simply not true,” Cross said.

The IBHE has discussed engaging in a campaign, “ let parents, teachers and guidance counselors and prospective students know this is a good place, your own home state is a good place to go college and get a good quality degree that will get you a good job," Cross said.

Student enrollment fell this fall at public colleges across the state with the exception of the University of Illinois campuses in Urbana-Champaign and Chicago.

According to the IBHE, Illinois has one of the highest rates in the nation of students who choose to go out of state for college. New Jersey is the only state losing more students.

Cross applauded Illinois' public universities for making it through the two-year budget impasse. He said the universities now need funding predictability from the state in order to plan.