Struggling Illinois Universities Testify Before Lawmakers


Higher education in Illinois has been caught in a continuing battle over the budget.  Eastern Illinois University President David Glassman told state senators Thursday that layoffs and cutbacks at public universities and community colleges seem to be the result of political gamesmanship.

Glassman said the school needs the state's support to survive, but it's not getting that help because lawmakers in both political parties won't reach a compromise on legislation.

"Proposal after proposal is filed and lobbed across the aisle only to meet quick defeat or eventual demise," he said.

For 177 employees at EIU, this is their last week of work. Glassman sent out an e-mail to staff Friday, calling it a 'sad day.'

Democrats blame Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner for vetoing legislation that would have sent community colleges money, and reimbursed universities for low-income students' tuition waivers. Republicans favor other ways of funding higher education, but they said Democrats won't call them for votes.

Public universities and community colleges, such as Western Illinois University, have struggled to make ends meet after not getting state funding.

WIU President Jack Thomas said the school is laying off 100 employees and students are leaving for colleges out of state.

"Individuals want to know whether or not we're going to be open so that they can do four or five years at our institution," he said. "And not just those prospective students, our current students are questioning us."

WIU is one of several universities in the state that was losing students even before the political stalemate. About half of its students are minorities and about 40 percent are the first in their family to attend college.

Northeastern Illinois University says about 1,000 employees will be required to take one day off without pay per week because of the ongoing state budget impasse.
President Sharon Hahs announced Thursday that furloughs will begin next week and will save $225,000 to $250,000 per week. Hahs says the move is "incredibly difficult.'' But she says it's necessary to ensure the Chicago university can operate into fall semester. 

Illinois' Board of Higher Education Director James Applegate said the state is "on the verge of dismantling the higher education system.''

Story source: Illinois Public Radio