Officials hope stimulus money fights budget cuts

By Gus Bode

In a national economic crisis, SIU is not the only university looking for ways to combat budget cuts in any way possible.

In Missouri, legislators agreed not to cut state funds to public colleges and universities if institution presidents do not increase tuition or academic fees for the next year. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said in a Jan. 21 news release the agreement would protect students in a national economic crisis and ensure stable finances for higher education.

‘While students in many other states are likely to face double-digit tuition increases next year, Missouri students can rest assured that their tuition rates will stay the same,’ Nixon said in the release. ‘It will take more of these innovative, collaborative agreements to get our economy moving in the right direction.’

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According to the release, public four-year institutions in Missouri have raised tuition by an average of 7.5 percent per year for the past 10 years.

But one SIU official is not so sure Missouri’s plan would work in Illinois.

University spokesman Dave Gross said a similar agreement in Illinois would be premature at this time. President Barack Obama’s $819 billion stimulus package should protect higher education institutions from cutting programs, Gross said.

According to the New York Times, the federal economic stimulus package, which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday, features $79 billion for states to maintain government services and avoid educational cuts from pre-kindergarten through higher education. The package will likely face a Senate vote later this week.

‘The federal stimulus bill that’s working it’s way through Congress provides a financial safety net for higher education funding with the states,’ Gross said. ‘Hopefully, between the federal funds and potentially doing something at the state level to increase revenues, there won’t be dramatic budget cuts.’

Gross said another reason the agreement in Missouri would not work the same in Illinois is the Truth in Tuition law, which guarantees a frozen tuition rate for all four years a student is enrolled.

There are also new and expanded tuition tax credits for low and middle-income families, additional borrowing limits and increased Pell Grant funding in the stimulus package, Gross said.

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‘There’s quite a bit of tuition relief that’s going to be included in this stimulus bill,’ Gross said. ‘Until we know more about how (the stimulus bill) is going to affect public university funding in Illinois, I think it’d be premature to make any sort of judgment about a trade off between budget cuts and tuition rates.’

SIU President Glenn Poshard did not respond to four phone messages left at his office and cell phone between Thursday and Sunday.

Madeleine Leroux can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 259 or [email protected]

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