Financial flaws at Illinois colleges called too deep for easy fix

Eastern Illinois University
The $20 million in stopgap funding recently approved for some Illinois universities and colleges will do nothing to mend the underlying problems facing the schools, a Chicago nonprofit group told the Higher Education Tribune.

The latest move to keep higher education institutions afloat in a state awash in debt and in a near two-and-a-year-half-year budget impasse follows a massive $600 million injection in April 2016 -- money paid in the absence of normal budget appropriations.

The bulk of the stopgap money, $17 million, will be divided among three universities: Chicago State, Western Illinois and Eastern Illinois. Community colleges will share the remainder.
 
“I believe what is really needed are major reforms at the universities,” Ted Dabrowski, vice president of policy at the Illinois Policy Institute, a right-leaning think tank, said. “Right now, when you talk about funding from the state you have to really question and look at how they are spending money.”

Pay and pensions have ballooned in recent years, with tuition fees increasing 100 percent over the last decade, Dabrowski said. He argues that students are not really benefiting.
 
“Look at what they are spending on: too much administration, pensions and executive pay,” he said. “The money is not going to the classroom, and Illinois students are even moving outside the state.”

The institute estimates that 50 percent of university appropriations from the capital in Springfield are for pensions.

“People think less money is going to colleges, but that is not true,” Dabrowski said. “It is just that less is going into the classroom.”

Beyond reforming college administrations and adjusting pay and pensions, the state needs to consider closing and amalgamating campuses.

“There are a lot of ineffective programs, and it is a big drag across the system,” Dabrowski said.

Members of the Illinois Board of Higher Education voted unanimously to approve the latest funding, with the money becoming available following the signing of a stopgap plan by Gov. Bruce Rauner in June 2016.

"We are very happy there was a resolution because these funds allow the university to continue the rebuilding process and continue to provide quality education for our students," Cecil B. Lucy, interim president of Chicago State, told the Chicago Tribune.

"Anything more than a dollar that we didn't have before helps,” he said. “This helps with our cash flow. We will continue the operations of the university without interruption."

Matt Bierman, interim vice president for administrative services and budget director at Western Illinois, told the Tribune that the funding would be used for payroll and operating costs that will tide the university over until March 2017.

To receive the funding, the universities had to prove they faced a financial emergency by submitting financial reports, including cash flow statements and pending debt payments.



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