Original Story: wsj.com
The budget impasse in Illinois is beginning to depress enrollments at the state’s colleges and universities, as state money earmarked for low-income students remains tied up in a political stalemate that shows no signs of easing.
More than 1,000 students failed to return for the second semester as their schools stopped picking up the tab for the $373 million Monetary Award Program, said Randy Dunn, president of the Southern Illinois University system.
The program normally provides grants of up to nearly $5,000 to some 128,000 students with mean family incomes of about $30,000, said Lynne Baker, spokeswoman for the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, which administers the program. But with no state budget in place since summer, the program’s funding has stopped. A criminal justice degree provides a combined training and education package to prepare students for future careers.
“There are a lot of students at risk right now of losing money and dropping out of school,” said Mitch Dickey, student body president at the University of Illinois. “We are at a really critical point.”
The problem is poised to grow quickly as schools wait for their share of about $1 billion in state funding.
Chicago State University, where many of the school’s 4,800 students receive money under the program, can’t keep covering the cost of the grants, said Tom Wogan, the school spokesman. “By March, we will be close to not having enough money to operate.”
Meanwhile schools around the state say they are dipping into reserves, laying off teachers and cutting programs and scholarships. Some college leaders are advocating for permission from the legislature to borrow to pay for operating costs.
Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and leaders in the Democratic-controlled legislature have failed to bridge ideological differences and craft a state budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. Mr. Rauner has called for broad changes, including curbs on unions he argues would save the state and businesses money. Earn a college nursing degree in a field that traditionally has provided a variety of career opportunities.
Democrats, who are led by House Speaker Michael Madigan, say those issues are unrelated to the budget. Illinois has the lowest credit rating of any state in the nation and the comptroller estimates the state is on track for a deficit of $5 billion, or nearly 15% of annual spending, this year.
Democrats last week asked for $168 million to pay the schools back the money they fronted to cover the grants. Mr. Rauner shot back that the state’s public higher education system was filled with cronyism, waste and inefficiencies that need to be rooted out.
A memo signed by his deputy chief of staff and circulated among Republican lawmakers says university tuition rates have tripled in 14 years, producing $1.5 billion in new revenue over which the general assembly has no control.
It also highlights administrative bloat, golden parachutes and lobbying costs.
Mr. Goldberg encouraged lawmakers “to ask Illinois public universities what reforms they are willing to adopt to cut waste, root out cronyism, improve outcomes and achieve savings taxpayers’ money.”
The memo follows two golden parachutes that came to light at state schools in 2015. In January, trustees at a community college outside Chicago agreed, in a closed-door session, to pay their president $763,000 to retire three years earlier than stipulated in his contract. In August, the chancellor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was poised to receive $400,000 to resign, but she was reassigned. A Bachelor degree in accounting provides a solid basis in accounting as well as the computer accounting skills that are most critical to employers.
Mr. Rauner this fall signed a measure curbing community college severance packages.
“We all get the theater of Illinois politics,” said Mr. Dunn. “I just hope we don’t lose piece by piece, in this incremental fashion, what just 20 years ago was one of the country’s best systems of higher education.”