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Illinois’ Public Universities Face A Difficult Year Ahead

State budget and enrollment issues are plaguing public universities across Illinois. February will be the twentieth straight month state officials have not agreed on a budget, and the standoff between lawmakers means that Illinois’ 48 community colleges and 12 public universities are not receiving the usual funding needed to run its institutions. Enrollment is also taking a hit. In 2016, freshman enrollment at regional public universities declined as much as 25 percent compared to the year before. Schools such as Eastern Illinois University and Northern Illinois University have both seen drops of over 20 percent. The Chicago Tribune reports that Senator Laura Murphy has spoken to students who are “not even considering Illinois Schools because nobody wants to put up with uncertainty.”

Cuts in state funding have forced Illinois schools to raise prices and cut programs. Chicago Mag reports that Illinois-Urbana has raised instate rates by 59 percent in the past 10 years. Rising tuition, along with grant based funding issues, isn’t allowing money to stretch as far is it used to. The Chicago Tribune interviewed Senator Bill Cunningham, whose daughter is a freshman at Illinois state. He said, “I know more than a few (students) were warned by their college counselors that perhaps the school they were looking at might not offer their major in a year or two,” referring to schools cutting programs because of budget issues. He continued saying, “the General Assembly and the governor are forcing state universities to make very difficult decisions about what programs to keep.”

The lack of confidence with the state budget situation, rising tuition, and recruiting from nearby states is compelling many potential students to study out of state. Neighboring state schools are able to attract students with scholarships while still earning more than they would from in-state students. States like Missouri are also allowing out of state students to become eligible for residential status after one year, insuring a better rate of return.

Governor Bruce Rauner said he’s ready for change and compromise. “Well, I’m pushing every day to get a balanced budget with more resources for education. For me, education is the number one priority,” Rauner said. The governor has said a budget deal has been discussed and sent to party leaders, but negotiations are still ongoing.

The bottom line is colleges across the state are guessing on what to do. Do schools raise tuition and fees while waiting for appropriation? Will they receive appropriation in the near future?   With a budget deficit approaching $12 billion only time will tell for the colleges and universities in the state of Illinois.