University Presidents Welcome Illinois Budget Boost

After a two-year budget impasse had many students fleeing the state as money for financial aid dried up, administrators at Illinois’ public universities now have a reason to smile.

Under Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s new budget, Illinois’ 12 public universities are set to see an increase of nearly 5% in their operating budgets to $1.16 billion. An additional $3.2 billion has been earmarked for colleges and universities as part of the governor’s six-year, $45 billion infrastructure spending bill.

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But that increased spending comes against a backdrop of falling enrollment as nearly half of Illinois high school graduates who enrolled at four-year universities in 2017 chose to leave the state. Only New Jersey exports more students to other states, according to the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

In response, the new budget also provides $451 million -- more money than ever before -- for financial aid via the states Monetary Award Program otherwise known as MAP grants.

Some universities have struggled with enrollment more than others.

Chicago State University’s enrollment of just under 3,000 students is less than half of what it was a decade ago. Meanwhile, the University of Illinois system has 86,000 students and reportedly hopes to grow that number to 93,000 by 2021.

With some of the smaller state universities struggling to attract students some critics would like to see change.

A recent editorial in the Chicago Tribune called for reform to “deliver a future-focused outcome rather than a mere rehab of the dilapidated status quo.”

The editorial argued that it might be time to consider merging or even mothballing some universities given current demographic trends that have seen Illinois lose population.

The future for higher education in Illinois depends in large part on whether Pritzker’s big investment in education pays off – and whether overburdened taxpayers see that spending as a good use of their tax dollars.

University of Illinois President Timothy Killeen believes that ultimately it will prove a wise investment for the state.

“It’s the best and smartest investment a state can make,” he said.

Killeen joins us in discussion, along with Zaldwaynaka “Z” Scott, president of Chicago State University; and Elaine Maimon, president of Governors State University.

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