Panel Discusses Effects of Budget Impasse on Higher Education

The state of Illinois has been without a budget almost 20 months. An area that is deeply affected is higher education, which includes junior colleges and four-year universities.

Ralph Martine, the Executive Director of Tax and Budget Accountability, said the last year Illinois had a general fund budget was 2015.

He said the general fund is responsible for education, health care, social services and public safety. In 2015 after adjusting to inflation, higher education received less in nominal dollars than it did in 2000, compared to the other core service areas.

In 2016 the state still did not have a general fund budget, but legislators did pass a budget on early childhood, kindergarten through 12th grade and higher education which was voted into law, passed by the general assembly and signed by Governor Rauner.

Higher education received a 67 percent cut which was greater compared to early childhood and kindergarten through 12th grade.

Martine said, “We have been disinvesting for 15 consecutive years in higher education. Thirty-seven states actually increased their higher ed funding from fiscal 2015 through 2016. Illinois is one of four states in America that cut higher ed funding in both fiscal 2015 and 2016.”

Illinois is also one of only nine states in America that cut higher education funding by 30 percent or more since the Great Recession.

There continues to be no budget for fiscal year 2017.

The current funding level for higher education is almost 79 percent lower than it was in 2000.

In smaller communities, for every dollar cut on higher education spending the impact on the local economy is a loss of a $1.36 of economic activity.

Danielle Stanley, the research associate said Fiscal year 2017 was a stop gap budget.

Western Illinois University was cut by 39 percent and 20 million of nominal dollars. WIU laid off 145 non-faculty positions and eliminated academic programs such as Women’s Studies, Philosophy and African American Studies.

Stanley noted the elimination of the programs was not only due to the budget impasse but to low enrollment.

“Sixteen-thousand students in Illinois have left to go to schools outside of the state,” Stanley said. “While only two thousand students came to Illinois to attend colleges.”

She said, “We are losing additional revenue because universities are forced to raise tuition because the state has disinvested historically.”