WIUM Tristates Public Radio

New Report: Illinois Should Change How It Funds Higher-Ed

Dec 4, 2020

A new report reflects on the long-term cost of cutting education funding during past recessions and how Illinois can learn from those mistakes during the COVID recession.

The Partnership for College Completion argues that recessions are a rare opportunity to make college access and cost more equitable.

Mike Abrahamson is the Partnership’s policy manager. He believes the future of Illinois’ economy depends on how Illinois devotes funding to education now, when dollars are scarce and there could be budget cuts for schools around the corner.

“It's crucial that we respond to this not by cutting across the board, if we do need to make cuts, but in a way that recognizes the institutions and the students that they serve.”

The report calls for the state to adopt a funding formula for higher-ed -- similar to K-12’s Evidence-Based Funding -- that prioritizes schools who rely more on state appropriations and often enroll a higher percent of low-income and students of color.

Up to 10% funding cuts could be on the horizon for higher-ed in Illinois. He said it’s important to remember schools and students won’t be hit equally.

“At some universities, it might mean increasing tuition by a few hundred dollars at others in order to make up that gap it would be over $1,000,” he said. “And those students have far less ability to pay because our most financially vulnerable institutions also enroll our most financially vulnerable students.”

That also means directing more money the Monetary Award Program or MAP need-based grants. Abrahamson says Illinois’ FAFSA completion gap grew because of the pandemic -- with completion dropping 4% at lower-income high schools and increasing by nearly 5% at more affluent schools.

He said it’s vital Illinois invest in education during the COVID-induced recession. The report states that disinvestment during previous economic downturns directly led to enrollment declines over the past decade.

Along with equity-focused funding for the next few years, the report also asks the state to establish a transparent equity task force to plan a long-term funding formula for higher-ed.