Rauner proposes $44M funding cut for SIUC

By Sam Beard, @SamBeard_DE

State funding for Illinois universities will be cut more than 31 percent if Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner gets his way.

At his budget address Wednesday, Rauner discussed the ways he plans to fix Illinois’ budget crisis, which Reuters reports is a $6.2 billion structural deficit.

One major way Rauner plans to make this happen is by slashing funding for higher education by $387 million next year; about $44 million of which would be taken from SIU’s Carbondale campus, President Randy Dunn said. He said the entire SIU system will take a $60 million hit if approved by the General Assembly.

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Dunn said public education in Illinois, and maybe the entire country, has never seen a funding cut of this magnitude happen so fast.

If approved, the cuts would go into effect July 1.

While details of the proposal were unclear, MAP grants will not be affected.

Lynne Baker, managing director of communications at the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, said she is happy to hear this. The commission handles MAP grant funding.

“In light of the challenging budget situation, we were pleased to see that the governor’s proposed budget at least preserves MAP funding at current levels,” Baker said.

She said she is not sure what will happen to tuition rates or fees.

Dunn said the cuts would significantly change the university’s business model.

“[The proposed cuts] would be draconian, and severely detrimental to the operations of the campus as we know them,” Dunn said.

He said the nearly one-third slash in funding came as a shock.

“About a third of state money disappearing under the governor’s proposal was a figure that took your breath away,” Dunn said.

Philosophy professor Larry Hickman, director of the Center for Dewey Studies, said cutting funding for higher education is not a good economic policy.

Hickman said a decrease in funding could incentivize top professors and researchers to relocate.

“Cut funding for higher education by 30 percent, and basically you are going to have a brain drain away from Illinois,” Hickman said. “When I was in graduate school in the 1960s and ’70s, state support for higher education in many states was up around 80 percent.”

Not only has state funding for colleges decreased in parts of the country, the cost of school is steadily rising, according to the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities.

From 2008 to 2014 the average annual cost of tuition for public colleges and universities in Illinois has increased $2,326, according to the center.

“With the increases in college tuition and fees over the years and increasing demand for MAP grants, MAP now serves only about half the applicants who are eligible, and covers only about one-third of average tuition and fees at a public university in this state,” Baker said.

Dunn said he is not in a position to argue with the governor.

“What we’ve got to do now as a group of universities is to go to the General Assembly and show that this is part of the investment [in Illinois’ future],” he said.

Dunn said the presidents and chancellors for all Illinois public universities will have a conference call Thursday to discuss how to move forward. 

He said higher education is going to help solve the problems of economic recovery and workforce development.

“Don’t think about what we do as a cost, but as an investment,” Dunn said. “Right now it feels like there is a huge disinvestment in Illinois higher education, and in the long run, that is not going to lead to a good outcome for this state.”

When asked what he would say to Rauner, Dunn used a metaphor to explain his thoughts.

“It has taken us decades to get into this financial crisis that were are in,” Dunn said. “It becomes very difficult to correct that problem all in one year. I understand the need for all of the state government to take some medicine, but even too much medicine given too quickly can kill the patient. And I worry about that here.”

Sam Beard can be reached at [email protected] 

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