Illinois university presidents were stunned last night as the funding measure they thought would provide the first state funds in almost a year suddenly disappeared.
Seated in the gallery overlooking the Illinois House of Representatives, college administrators believed they were on the verge of getting state funds for the first time in 10 months. But suddenly, the sponsor withdrew the bill with little explanation, saying only that she wanted to hold off on a vote.
Jack Thomas, president of Western Illinois University, was visibly angry and requested a few minutes to calm down before answering questions.
"We were all excited tonight, thinking that they were going to come to an agreement, and then BOOM! No budget right now, everything has been put on hold,” he said.
Randy Dunn, president of Southern Illinois University, said legislators need to find a solution soon.
"I'm not sure what just happened because even the old hands here in the Capitol were surprised by this,” he said. “But clearly, we're at the point of existential crisis for some of our institutions. And there has to be a patch. There has to be a stop gap."
A representative of Chicago State University -- slated to close at the end of this month -- had previously agreed to an interview but cancelled after the deal collapsed, telling me, "We have nothing to say."
May 1st is a big day for colleges and universities. It's the deadline for students to accept admissions offers, and commit to attend the school they plan to attend. Dunn said the budget impasse is causing many families to hold off on committing to attend Illinois schools.