Monday, September 12, 2016

Budget mess sinking higher ed in Illinois

August 06, 2016 Editorial: 

By Crain's Editorial Board

When Bruce Rauner was running for governor in 2014, he vowed he'd boost state spending on higher education while warning he'd also work with university administrators to reduce spending on overhead. Since moving to Springfield, Rauner has, euphemistically speaking, worked with public universities from one end of the state to the other to cut expenditures. If only he were true to his full promise.

Higher education in Illinois is withering. And if the state's schools aren't rescued soon, the damage could be profound and permanent.

Illinois has come a long way since the bleak days of the Rust Belt recession 35 years ago. A third of adults over 25 have a bachelor's degree or better in Illinois today; in metro Chicago, the share has risen even more, to 36 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That's good. Though college isn't for everyone, the best-paying and most secure jobs are reserved for people with college degrees. If Illinois is going to thrive in the digital economy, it will need a highly educated workforce.

Rauner and the Democratic do-nothings in the General Assembly, however, seem bound and determined to deny us that. Their stopgap state budget restored funding for student grants in the previous academic year but set aside no money for grants in the fall semester, which is just a few weeks away. Altogether, the six-month budget gives higher ed $1.6 billion over 18 months. That's less than the $1.9 billion it received in the 12 months ended June 30.

It's no wonder that more Illinois high school graduates are enrolling in out-of-state schools, which can offer guaranteed aid packages. It's also no wonder that, as Crain's reported Aug. 1, professors are leaving in droves, even trading tenured positions here for nontenured jobs where they won't have to worry about what new cuts will be forced on public universities on Jan. 1, when the money runs out again. Once we lose our best and brightest to other states, we may never get them back.

We're picking on Rauner here because he broke his word. But House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton are his duty-shirking enablers. What all three need to do is agree on a real state budget that provides the state's universities with the money they deserve and Illinois the workers it can't live without.

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