Analysis: Illinois universities spend all state taxpayer money on retiree pensions, not current student instruction


Amid a political stalemate delaying their state funding, leaders at Illinois’ public universities are threatening teacher layoffs and class cancellations.

But an analysis of state taxpayer funding to public universities shows all state aid is effectively passed through to fund university retiree pensions -- and then some.

According to an Illinois Department of Insurance report, state taxpayers have spent $6.9 billion subsidizing university pensions over the past decade. In 2014 alone, they spent $1.51 billion.

General state aid to public universities totaled $1.24 billion in 2014, meaning students covered the remaining $270 million pensioner subsidy with their tuition payments.

This spending is described in state budget reports as “employer contributions” to the State University Retirement System (SURS) on behalf of the state’s 69,436 university employees. In 2014, it was five times what the employees themselves ($4,077) contributed to their own retirement funds -- a total of $21,644 per employee from state taxpayers.

And according to state auditors, even this growing taxpayer subsidy isn’t near enough to make up for the low savings rate by university employees. SURS faced a $20.04 billion deficit in its fund as of June 30, 2014, one that’s grown 186 percent over the past decade as the number of retirees soars.

In 2005, SURS funded 39,800 retiree beneficiaries. In 2014, that number had risen to 59,406.

According to the Better Government Association, 1,443 university retirees collected more than $100,000 in pension benefits in 2014; 55 collected more than $200,000.

Employer Contributions to Illinois Public University Employee Pensions

 2014 $1,502,863,618
 2013 $1,401,481,111
 2012 $985,814,621
 2011 $773,594,666
 2010 $696,595,341
 2009 $451,617,066
 2008 $344,945,238
 2007 $261,142,635
 2006 $180,018,082
 2005 $285,423,310

2014 State Taxpayer Aid to Public Universities

 School Total Aid Graduation Rate
 University of Illinois $668,661,400

85% (Urbana-Champaign)

59% (Chicago)

48% (Springfield)

 Southern Illinois University $205,861,10049% (Carbondale)
53% (Edwardsville)
 Northern Illinois University $93,412,600 55%
 Illinois State University $74,089,200 70%
 Western Illinois University $52,775,100 55%
 Eastern Illinois University $44,083,100 61%
 Chicago State University $42,169,800 25%
 Northeastern Illinois University $37,847,400  22%
 Governors State University $24,675,000 62%

Organizations in this story

Chicago State University Eastern Illinois University Governors State University Illinois Central College Illinois State University Northeastern Illinois University Northern Illinois University Southern Illinois University Carbondale University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign Western Illinois University

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