State budget impasse puts schools’ accreditation at risk

State budget impasse puts schools accreditation at risk

By Jodi S. Cohen, Chicago Tribune

The accreditation agency that oversees Illinois’ public colleges and universities has asked that they submit emergency plans detailing how they will accommodate students if the state budget crisis forces them to close.

In a letter sent Thursday to the state’s 57 public schools, the Higher Learning Commission said that any institution that believes it may close in the next several months must explain how it will ensure that students can continue their education elsewhere, receive transcripts and advising and get timely information about closure decisions.

All schools were asked to provide, by Feb. 18, basic financial and enrollment information, including the current cash situation, cuts in faculty and staff, and expectations for fall enrollment “in light of concerns prospective students may have about the stability of higher education in the state.” The agency will use that information to help gauge whether the schools can remain accredited.


Accreditation is key to a school’s survival because, without it, students cannot get federal financial aid and are at risk of their credits being rejected by other institutions.

Colleges and universities have been running without operating dollars from the state since July 1, when Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed an out-of-balance spending plan sent to him by ruling Democrats in the legislature. While much of state government has received some cash to keep going through various court orders or legislative and executive maneuvers, higher education has been largely left without any funding.

In a separate letter sent Thursday to the governor and legislative letters, the Higher Learning Commission urged them to consider how the budget impasse is affecting students and the future of Illinois’ public higher education system.

“For students to continue at another institution, it could mean having to transfer to private universities or leave the state,” wrote agency President Barbara Gellman-Danley. “It is also probable some students may drop out of college.”

The budget stalemate is causing varying degrees of concern at the state’s schools, depending on how much of their budgets come from state funds and their ability to draw from reserves or an endowment.

Chicago State University, a mostly minority-serving institution on the city’s South Side, declared financial exigency Thursday, opening the door to fire employees — including tenured faculty — and take other extreme action to stay open. About 30 percent of the school budget comes from the state.

Other schools have laid off employees and cut programs to stay afloat.


The Higher Learning Commission, which oversees schools in 19 states, said the lack of basic funding could put Illinois schools’ accreditation at risk. Accreditation depends on an institution being able to demonstrate it has the necessary resources to provide quality education.

If accreditation is withdrawn, it takes several years to try to get it back.

(c) 2016 the Chicago Tribune

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