Watchdog questions Durbin's silence on College of DuPage scandal

The Illinois Policy Institute recently questioned why Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) has been a frequent critic of for-profit colleges and their alleged deceptive practices but has yet to comment on the scandal at the College of DuPage, a government-funded community college in his state. 

“It’s interesting,” Ted Dabrowski, IPI's vice president of policy, recently told the Higher Education Tribune. "Sen. Durbin has rightly recognized a problem – that too much federal money is pouring in to higher education. But it’s not just happening at for-profit colleges; it’s also happening at other higher-education institutions."

IPI, a nonpartisan, independent government watchdog, notes that the market saturation by for-profit colleges is only part of the reason that fewer students can afford a higher education.

Specifically, while universities say the state’s 2015 budget crisis forced the Illinois legislature to inadequately fund higher education -- in turn reducing access for low- and middle-income students – the blame actually should fall on the universities and their existing policies, according to "Pensions vs. Higher Education," an IPI report that Dabrowski co-authored.

The report, which analyzed state data and education spending reports, found that:

• More than 50 percent of state universities’ budgets go to pension costs for school faculty and administrators instead of going to the classroom;

• More than half of Illinois’ 2,465 university administrators received a base salary of $100,000 or more in 2015; and

• Since 2006, Illinois universities have grown administrative staff and salaries to record numbers and record costs.

Such policies, driven by ever-increasing administrative costs and the higher-education pension crisis, have created a roughly 100 percent increase in student tuition over the past decade and put college out of reach for many Illinois students, Dabrowski told the Higher Education Tribune.

Thus, Illinois’ budget problems have exposed the failure of the state’s universities to put students first, resulting in too many students being forced to take on crippling debt just to get a higher education.

“We’re seeing administrative bloat across all higher-education institutions and we’re seeing massive multi-million-dollar pensions that students end up having to fund through higher tuition costs,” Dabrowski said. "I’m not sure why Sen. Durbin is only focused on for-profit colleges in the state because they all have a problem."

Included in this are community colleges like the publicly funded College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, which is under a wide-ranging criminal investigation by federal prosecutors for its spending, contracts, financial oversight and award of one of the state’s largest severance packages to a public employee. A judge last week ordered the college’s foundation to turn over to the media a federal subpoena it and the college have tried to keep private.

Durbin has not commented on the issues facing the College of DuPage and the senator’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

If Durbin really wanted to fix the higher-ed affordability problem, Dabrowski said, then the senator would push to dramatically cut the amount of government-funded money going into higher education.

“That would make it affordable for all students,” he said.

On March 15, Durbin joined members of the Senate Democratic Caucus to introduce the In the Red Act, a bill aimed at reforming and addressing college affordability.

One provision in the bill would create a new federal-state partnership to invest in students’ workforce readiness and the future of the U.S. economy by making two years of community college tuition-free. This would help students earn an associate’s degree, the first half of a bachelor’s degree, and gain the skills they need to succeed in the workforce without having to take on crippling debt. The bill would save a full-time community college student an average of $3,800 in tuition per year, and, if all states participated under this program, an estimated 9 million students throughout the country could benefit, according to Durbin’s office.

The IPI report is available online at: https://www.illinoispolicy.org/reports/pensions-vs-higher-education/.

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