Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
By Annabella Barry
URBANA–The University of Illinois remains financially sound despite the failings of the state. Public schools, along with higher education, have suffered greatly without a state budget this year. The stopgap legislation approved Thursday will temporarily cover education funding for the next six months. However, the most fortunate of Illinois’ public universities has slowly worked to reduce their dependence on the state for funding.
According to Robin Kaler, Associate Chancellor of Public Affairs for UI, the economic uncertainty of Illinois’ schools has not affected application trends at the university. In fact, the school’s number of applicants has actually increased.
“What it has done is created a lot of anxiety for our current students, and I’m sure it created a lot of anxiety for prospective students who are hoping to get some financial aid,” Kaler said.
Kaler said the state has not pulled through when it comes to the Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants. These grants, which do not need to be repaid, are a necessity for low-income students hoping to attend college.
Even with the lack of MAP grants, the University has been able to function at a higher level than other state schools because of efforts to reduce the need for state funding.
“We are less dependent on the state than many other institutions in Illinois are. That doesn’t mean we are not dependent on the state–those are two very different things,” Kaler said.
State money accounts for 15 percent of UIUC’s total budget. UIUC received only 30 percent of the money the state is meant to provide for 2016, meaning the institution lost 10.5 percent of their calculated budget. The University hopes to make up for this percentage through endowments.
Other state schools, such as Eastern Illinois, Western Illinois and Chicago State have budgets that require a higher percentage of money from the state. When state support began eroding, UI turned other sources to fund the university.
Hikes in tuition, increase in research and corporate partnerships and focus on fundraising and donations kept UIUC from large-scale layoffs that many other state schools have experienced.
Despite all of the actions taken to lessen the consequences of a year without a budget, problems remain. The university has different ideas than Springfield when it comes to what the newly passed stopgap will cover.
“They’re [Springfield] saying that what they do today [the stopgap] is supposed to take us through December of this year,” Kaler said. “We’re saying, ‘No, that takes us through July [of 2016].'”