Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Universities seek additional state funds

By Ashley Griffin

State university officials asked Wednesday for more money than Gov. Pat Quinn has proposed in his Fiscal Year 2013 budget.

Testifying before an Illinois Senate committee, officials from Illinois State University, Eastern Illinois University and Western Illinois University sought more money to offer more need-based scholarships to students who come from families with modest incomes, to make basic repairs on their campuses or just to maintain university buildings.

“We are requesting an excess of a $10 million increase in our state appropriations, primarily because the dollars the university is receiving today are less than they were in 1999,” said Illinois State University president Al Bowman. “We’ve got significant deferred maintenance issues, and we need a way to cover our cost increases that doesn’t continue to put these cost on the backs of students and their families.”

In Quinn’s proposed budget, ISU would receive $78.9 million in operating funds from the state. If the proposed $10 million were approved, ISU would see a 13 percent increase. If the funds are not provided, students there could see a “modest” tuition increase, according to Bowman.

“Well, I guess I would be surprised if the request did go through,” Bowman said. “The aggressive proposal that we put on the table was really designed to sort of demonstrate to the state what the real needs are. We recognize that the potential for a significant increase in state funding is simply not there. That’s the reality; that doesn’t change what the need is.”

Eastern Illinois University sought a 1.5 percent increase for inflation and for academic programs in clean energy and alternative energy.

“We know that it is a constrained environment, so we made a realistic request for some increases that we think will uphold the quality at what we do at Eastern,” said president William Perry. ““I’m expecting something like level funding. We will work with that, and we’ll do a great job for our students.”

Despite Quinn’s recommended $46 million operating appropriation, the university has decided to make a recommendation to increase tuition, pending an approval from the board of trustees on Friday. “We are making our tuition increase recommendation to our board kind of independent of what the state appropriation will be. I’m working under a general assumption that’s it’s not going to change too much either up or down,” Perry said.

Western Illinois University asked for a $14 million increase in addition to the $58 million in operating funds recommended by Quinn. Some of the funds would go to the engineering program and the nursing program on campus. Students there also could see a slight hike in their tuition if the increase is not approved.
Some lawmakers said they are unsure about the possible outcomes even if some of the universities receive the additional funds.

“We are evaluating everything line item by line item, we have a very limited amount of money, and we need to make sure we live within our means” said Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Democrat from Park Ridge. “Everything needs to be looked at right now the same way a family looks at it, the same way a business looks at it. How much money is actual available to spend on programs that are making a difference?”


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