Higher Education Hurt By Illinois Fiscal Crisis


Without Budget
Reform Colleges

and Universities Will Continue To Suffer


By Stanley Ikenberry



The people of Illinois
and our state government are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. Illinois
is unable to pay its bills. We are heavily in debt and face the prospect of
borrowing even more. And yet the state budget approved on July 1st does little to
lift us from the chaos that threatens our entire state and our future.  

 

How does all of this touch higher education in this
state?  It's no small question since

the University of Illinois and other colleges and universities touch
almost every family and community in Illinois
- our hospitals and law firms, our schools and businesses, our neighborhoods and
every corner of civic life.  The
University's fingerprints can be found in homes, at work, and on farms and
communities all across Illinois.

 

And yet our University and other public universities in Illinois are owed hundreds of millions of dollars by the
State of Illinois.  Just as State appropriations have been cut
for next year, it's not clear when last's year's obligations will be paid.  In the mean time campuses have instituted
hiring freezes, faculty and staff furloughs, deferred repairs and maintenance,
raised tuition, and made plans to borrow - all in an attempt to keep the doors
open.  

 

For public colleges and universities in Illinois this comes on top of a decade-long
erosion in state support.  While other
states increased support for their universities by 17 percent over the last 10
years, Illinois
cut state support for higher education by 10 percent, and an additional 6
percent cut was levied this July.

 

This leaves Illinois public
universities in a weakened position to meet obligations to students, to attract
and retain top faculty and maintain the quality that has been the hallmark of Illinois higher
education for generations. Moreover, the current crisis worries our students
and parents who wonder if classes will be interrupted or if one or more state
universities will actually close?

 

The State of Illinois
needs a quick and meaningful solution to this crisis.  For example, Illinois can do a better job controlling
state Medicaid costs.  The state's
pension systems which are both a manifestation of Illinois' financial crisis and a
contributing cause should be reformed. 
Pension income should be taxed along with other personal income.  And state employees and retirees should
contribute appropriately to the cost of their health insurance.

 

Even after making these painful reforms Illinois must generate more state revenues
and act quickly on all fronts.  The
journey to fiscal health will be a long, hard climb.  There is no quick fix, so the more quickly we
begin, the better.  Much hangs in the
balance for the University
of Illinois
. And even
more hangs in the balance for families, communities and businesses from one end
of Illinois
to the other.  Each of us has a
responsibility to push for, support and contribute to a solution that will
rescue the present and safeguard the future.


Stanley Ikenberry is the former President of the University of Illinois.

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