Lack of state funding spurs tuition increases over time

MACOMB – The Western Illinois Faculty Senate heard a financial report presented by Budget Director Matthew Bierman on the Illinois budget crisis and subsequent fallout since 2016.
Bierman explained that the bulk of his report is a recap on the last few years of economic activity with some projections “for us to consider and use as a dialogue.”
The projected income for the FY18 fiscal year was broken down into three different budget entities the university has, which are $46 million in appropriated funds (state and tuition), $47.8 million in auxiliary faculty system funds, which are “specifically restricted based on bond covenants” — and $60 million in grants, loans and fees.
As a result of the Illinois state budget impasse, many institutions had to cut their services. Bierman said “FY16 and FY17 was a mess” with WIU receiving just $14.9 million in 2016. The shortfall in appropriated funds for the following fiscal year was buoyed by the transfer of funds from various sources as a “stop gap” measure against the university potentially closing its doors.
Bierman said the university received in FY17 $59.8 million, which is “more than we had in 2015, but only because of the way they forced us to count it.” Money allocated to cover the funding shortfall was $31.4 taken from a stop gap fund on June 30, 2016, $8.4 million in emergency funding from Illinois Board of Higher Education, $6.8 million emergency action fund on July 6, 2017, and $13.3 million from a general relief fund.
“When we got into this crisis that the state wasn’t paying us anything,” Bierman continued, “it became less about budget and more about immediate cash needs. That took precedence in how we managed a lot of the financial problems in last two years.”
The largest source of funding Western Illinois University receives is in appropriated funds, which comes by way of state allocated funds and student tuition. Given the budget impasse lasted over two years from 2015 to 2017, the university relied much more on student tuition as a source of immediate cash flow.
Bierman reported that student enrollment decreased over a 12-year period from 2006 when 13,602 total students enrolled and 2017 when 9,441 students were enrolled. The total number of students includes both undergrad and grad students.
He also said that the university took in $69 million in tuition fees in FY17, and an approximate tuition income of $63 million for FY18.
WIU Faculty Senator and Professor of Sociology Robert Hironimus-Wendt expressed his opinion to the Voice that students are paying a higher tuition because “the state does not invest its resources and revenue in higher education.”
“It is perfectly rational for any child growing up in Illinois to be looking elsewhere for college,” Hironimus-Wendt said as he referred to a prepared list of tuition rates at public universities in neighboring states.
Hironimus-Wendt explained the data for his list comparing the tuition fees from WIU against public universities in Illinois and neighboring states was sourced from website, which are:
• Western Illinois
University $12,889
• Illinois State
University $13,666
• University of
Wisconsin $10,415
•Purdue University
• University of Iowa
• Missouri University
• University of Kentucky

“The problem,” he said, “is not that our universities are flawed or that our faculty is too expensive or that our curricula are unjustifiable.” The problem, he said, is that “our governors and our legislators ignore the economic interests of the state, and refuse to invest more fully in the education of our citizenry.”
“I’ve heard for the past several (state) administrations they have been borrowing the retirement funds. So, the state builds up these long-term obligations, and the only way to keep the state afloat is to stop spending less on the public good, to stop spending less on social welfare issues like education.”
“In Illinois, your tuition is probably half or more of the cost of your education,” he said. “We’re putting the burden of higher education on the private citizen, and if we want to do that, heaven help us. We will kill our public institutions.”

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