Stimulus ‘a lot less’ than higher education hoped for

By Gus Bode

The $787 billion stimulus bill will do little to ease financial strain on the state’s universities, including SIU, an Illinois Board of Higher Education official said Tuesday.

The federal stimulus bill, which President Obama plans to sign today, will provide somewhere between $50 billion and $75 billion to students and colleges across the country. But how much money SIU, and Illinois higher education in general, will receive remains to be seen.

Jay Bergman, a member of the IBHE, said college administrators hoped for more money to cover construction and operating costs. Instead, they got stabilization funds, research money and aid for students.


‘It was a lot less than what we were hoping for,’ Bergman said. ‘It would be like throwing a pebble at a brick wall.’

But SIU President Glenn Poshard said any money the university could get would help.

Poshard addressed the SIU Board of Trustees Thursday to inform it of possible layoffs if the state’s financial situation does not improve quickly.

Poshard said the stimulus money could help delay layoffs, but only if it gets to the states fast enough. Because the state will appropriate the money, it could take even longer to get to SIU, he said.

‘All the money we get is going to come through the state,’ Poshard said. ‘My concern is, with what speed we are going to see it?’

Poshard said he hopes the state appropriates the funds by university size, which would make SIU the second-largest beneficiary behind the University of Illinois.

The stimulus calls for $53.6 billion to aid states during the next two fiscal years, with $39.6 billion helping to offset cuts made by each state during the past two fiscal years and $8.8 billion distributed at the governors’ discretion.


The use of the state’s portion of the $8.8 billion, though, probably won’t be known until Gov. Pat Quinn gives his State of the State address in March.

Poshard said the university has already provided the state a list of shovel-ready projects the money could be used for, including its massive $400 million deferred maintenance bill.

‘That was a big deal for us because it includes infrastructure funds in that,’ he said. ‘That was a pleasant surprise.’

But students are getting the best deal, said SIU spokesman Dave Gross.

About $30 billion of the bill’s funds will go to students and families during the next two years, mainly through Pell Grants and higher education tax credits.

Pell Grants received a $17 billion boost while the tax credit was provided with $13 billion.

‘There is no question that when Congress sat down and got this thing done, it had students and families in mind,’ Gross said.

But Bergman said the grants would probably do little to help universities.

‘To be frank, it is probably not going to make a difference in whether a person goes to college or not,’ he said. ‘It will make things easier to pay tuition or buy textbooks, but it probably won’t boost enrollment numbers.’

Poshard also said the stimulus’ focus on scientific research was a victory for higher education.

The bill provides nearly $16 billion to research grants and facility improvements for several federal agencies.

Poshard said a portion of the $3 billion included for the National Science Foundation could be specifically useful for the university to pay new researchers the university has hired.

But Poshard stressed that no matter the amount of money higher education gets, it needs it as soon as possible.

‘We need the jobs right now and we have projects ready to go,’ he said. ‘All in all, it will benefit us. We just need it quickly.’