How will Illinois’ longest budget stalemate affect SIU’s accreditation?

Pulliam Hall. Daily Egyptian file photo.

Pulliam Hall. Daily Egyptian file photo.

By Anna Spoerre, @annaspoerre

State leaders were asked last week to consider how Illinois’ longest budget impasse is affecting the future of its public higher education system.

Barbara Gellman–Danley, president of the Higher Learning Commission — an accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education — sent letters Thursday to state government heads and Illinois public college and university officials concerning the state of public education in light of the budget stalemate between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the state’s Democratic leaders. 

The letter to government officials warns of the potential loss of accreditation that can result from a continued failure to pass a state budget.

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“A criterion for accreditation is demonstration of the ability of financial, physical and human resources necessary to provide quality higher education,” the letter read.  

University spokeswoman Rae Goldsmith said accreditation is crucial because students at unaccredited institutions are ineligible for federal financial aid.  

“Is it financially problematic? Absolutely,” Goldsmith said of the budget impasse. “But we’re committed to being here.”

MORE: State budget impasse puts schools’ accreditation at risk

She said SIU, which has been accredited since 1913, is not currently at risk of losing accreditation or closing, like some state institutions, such as Chicago State University

The notice also addresses the possibility of some students transferring or dropping out if their university closes. Goldsmith said the university is not one of the state institutions required to submit closing procedures. 

“The university is going to continue its operations,” said John Charles, SIU’s executive director for governmental and public affairs. “But we are obviously affected by the fact that we have not received our state appropriations. We need our budget.”

Gellman–Danley’s letter addressed to SIUC interim Chancellor Brad Colwell explicitly states the university is not at fault for the budget crisis, and educational institutions have done all they can to avoid the situation. As a result, university officials have been asked to provide a report to the Higher Learning Commission by Feb. 18 regarding the availability of resources necessary to maintain and support their institutions.

SIU officials must outline some information, including financial challenges, cuts to faculty or staff and enrollment numbers.

MORE: SIUC spring enrollment dips by 878 students from previous year | SIUE sets record spring enrollment

The letter also requires any institution under the threat of closure to submit emergency plans on how its administration will accommodate students in the event that the institution closes.

In September, Goldsmith said SIU planned to cut $13.5 million, a total of 6.4 percent, in state funding from the university’s budget. Charles said more than 6,500 students rely on Monetary Award Program funding, which the university has been providing funding for in place of the state since fall. 

SIU President Randy Dunn, along with other higher education officials, will meet at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Stone Center to discuss the financial crisis.

“This is going to be an effort by folks to come together to remind our lawmakers, our legislatures and governor that we need a budget,” Charles said. “We’re waiting for the governor’s budget address on [Feb. 17], and we’re hopeful he has good things to say about higher education.”

Anna Spoerre can be reached at [email protected] or 618-536-3325.

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