Western Illinois University President Jack Thomas gave a State of the University address at the start of the new school year. At the time, he said the state of the university was "okay." Now, with the fall semester in the books, Dr. Thomas said the school's situation is improving.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.
Thomas said Western was helped by resolution of the state’s two year budget impasse, which came to an end in early July. He said dependable state funding helps the university move forward.
“Hopefully the state will continue to invest in higher education and we can put all that behind us and begin to do some more innovative and creative kinds of things,” Thomas said.
The university has received around $24 million of its state appropriation for the current fiscal year. It can expect another $22.3 million during the spring semester.
The state also recently reimbursed Western $6.5 million in MAP grant funding for the fall semester. MAP grants are awarded to students from low-income families.
However, Thomas said Western is not yet out of the woods. He said the university must continue to be frugal and keep seeking support from other sources, such as corporations.
He also pointed out the state still owes WIU around $10 million for last fiscal year.
And he said the university could still use state financial support to address much needed repairs and renovations.
“We need the state to invest in our capital projects including deferred maintenance,” Thomas said.
“All of the (Illinois public higher education) institutions are advocating for the release of funding for those capital projects as well as for deferred maintenance. We’ve gone a number of years without having that funding.”
He would also like the state to release funding for building a Center for Performing Arts on the Macomb campus. That project has been on hold for several years.
Jeanette Malafa, Western’s Assistant to the President for Governmental Relations, also believes higher education is not yet out of the woods.
She told the WIU Board of Trustees that she expects a politically divisive legislative session in 2018 because the ten year redistricting process will begin after the November elections.
“Add that to the growing call for higher education reform in the state and the uncertainty of whether a state budget will actually be passed, and I believe we could be in for a very bumpy ride in Springfield,” Malafa said.