Higher education has been devastated by the state's year-long budget impasse, which has cut university funding by more than 70 percent. They went without any state funding until April, when lawmakers approved a stopgap funding measure to give colleges and universities $600 million to sustain them through summer.
For now, the future doesn't look much brighter.
When the legislature adjourned without passing a budget, higher education was barely being mentioned in floor debates. Instead lawmakers squabbled about how to fund elementary and secondary education.
We checked in with two college presidents to see how they're weathering the budget chaos: Tim Killeen, president of the University of Illinois; and Tom Ramage, president of Parkland Community College.
Killeen on MAP grants
We’ve sent (students) a letter you know, when the MAP students were accepted that you’ve probably seen. That’s pretty much what we’ve told them. Obviously there’s a statement in there that MAP funding is contingent upon state appropriations and of course, that’s still questionable for the upcoming fall semester. Obviously there was stopgap support that covered the MAP funding through the first semester of fy ‘16, so that’s taken care of, but we’re still in this position where the state funding is uncertain.
Killeen on fall 2016 enrollment forecast
We’ve seen on our campuses … about a 13 percent increase in applications, and I think the acceptances are running at a smaller number than that but they’re up. So you know we expect to see what we call “summer melt,” when people have second thoughts perhaps about where they’re going to go, so we’re probably at a high-water mark right now, but it’s a very healthy high-water mark for our fall enrollment. So things are looking good from that perspective. We’re delighted to see the participation of under-represented minorities is significantly up, and of course we’ve been working toward that through altered recruitment strategies.
Killeen on the popular perception that international students are crowding out Illinois natives on the flagship campus
Three out of every four undergraduates walking around the campus are Illinois natives. So we’re not talking about massive shifts in the participation of foreign students and Illinois students. In fact, the number of Illinois students has gone up and we’re very pleased to see that. That doesn’t mean that we’re trying to depress the number of foreign students, because we provide a world-class education to them and there’s demand for that and they add to the diversity in the student experience on campus. I’m a strong believer that a diverse student body, you know, is something to be celebrated.
Killeen on the news reports that as of January, the system had lost 22 tenure-track faculty members with another 27 pending
I don’t really know where they get those figures from or what ‘pending’ really means. We do retention efforts sometimes when professors get recruited away or get offers, and that happens all the time because we’ve got great faculty. And I know that retention efforts are definitely up. So we’re working hard to retain our top-flight faculty.
Killeen on the status of the U. of I.’s new med Champaign-Urbana med school, Carle Illinois College of Medicine
It’s going well. Carle and the university have been collaborating on the very important dean search process, which is I believe culminating. I know that’s going well. That process is an important one and I expect to see an announcement at some point sooner rather than later on the founding dean of the College of Medicine.
Killeen on the optics of hiring a dean during a budget crisis
I just want to remind you that the new School of Medicine is not going to be funded by state funding. It’s going to be funded by a combination of future tuition and also support from the Carle hospital system to the tune of $100 million, and those dollars have already started to flow. And people do really have to read the small print on these things because if it’s not funded by the taxpayer base, I think it’s unfair to be criticized as if it was funded by the taxpayer base. We do have alternative sources of revenue that are pretty important and we need to follow through on our commitments both to our vendors and notably to our students.
Ramage on how much state funding Parkland College is missing
Parkland College counted on $5.1 million from the State of Illinois. This last (fiscal) year that we’re about ready to finish up, we saw about $1.2 million. Going into this next fiscal year, I’m even more pessimistic. The tea leaves that I’m reading don’t look very good.
Ramage on MAP grants at Parkland College
Students at Parkland College have no MAP grants this spring semester nor any real hope for MAP grants in the next year, at least at this moment.
Ramage on downsizing
We shed about 50 people -- some faculty, some staff, some administration. If we don’t see at least half of our normal state funds coming in in (fiscal year) ‘17, that number will double.
Ramage on differences between community colleges and universities
What may provide relief for a university does nothing for a community college. For example, the procurement question. That’s worth -- depending on who you talk to -- millions of dollars across town at the university, where it’s virtually nothing at the community college. So when the legislature considers ways to help out higher ed, they’re maybe not considering the disparate impact on disparate institutions.
Ramage on whether all higher ed stakeholders are in this together
Some days we’re all in it together and some days we’re not. And it depends on whose agenda is being pushed. So certainly when it benefits us all, we speak with a unified voice. When it benefits the community college system, the community colleges speak for themselves. And the same with the universities. That’s unfortunate, but given the position that we’re all in, it’s almost to the point of survival.