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The "Crisis of Confidence" series is a multi-year effort by the Tri States Public Radio to document the impact the two-year state budget impasse had on Western Illinois University and the ongoing recovery efforts at WIU. State support for public higher education institutions has been steadily declining in Illinois for more than a decade. But the issue was compounded, during the state's historic two-year budget impasse during Fiscal Years '16 and '17 which left public colleges and universities with little state financial support. At Western Illinois University, that drastic cut in state appropriations resulted in significant budget cuts, employee furloughs, and layoffs.

WIU Details Furlough Plan

Rich Egger
Sherman Hall at Western Illinois University.

Western Illinois University said its plan requiring non-negotiated administrative employees to take unpaid days off the will save $4 million.  The furlough days will begin next month and continue through June 30, which is the end of the fiscal year.

Workers can schedule the days off.  The university said they’re prohibited from doing work on furlough days.

The program is for non-negotiated administrative workers who make at least $40,000 per year.  The number of required days off varies by salary (note: WIU sent out a slightly revised schedule on Wednesday, March 2):

  • 6 days for those making $40,000 - $49,999
  • 10 days for those making $50,000 - $74,999
  • 12 days for those making $75,000 - $99,999
  • 13 days for those making $100,000 - $124,999 (upper figure changed from $129,999)
  • 14 days for those making $125,000 - $149,999 (lower figure changed from $130,000)
  • 15 days for those making $150,000 and above

Western is struggling to make ends meet as Governor Bruce Rauner and Democratic legislative leaders remain at an impasse over a spending plan for higher education for the current fiscal year, which is now two-thirds over. 
Western and other public colleges and universities have yet to receive a dime of state money this fiscal year.  Public and private colleges and universities also have yet to be reimbursed for MAP grants, which the state awards to low-income students.

Schools have floated the grants to students to help them stay in school, but that’s put a further dent in the institutions’ reserve funds.  Western is owed $11 million in MAP grant funding.

The Governor in Quincy

Credit Jason Parrott
Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner (left) speaking Tuesday to students at Quincy High School.

Rauner spoke to about 70 Quincy High School students Tuesday afternoon.  The first question he received was about the lack of money for higher education, specifically Western Illinois University.

Rauner said he’s willing to fund MAP grants with the money saved by changing the purchasing rules for state government.  And he’s okay with using excess funds to help schools such as Western and Chicago State address their short-term financial crises.

But he said Speaker Madigan continues to block his proposals.

“I don’t know when the Speaker will take his boot off of some of his caucus members and let them do the right thing.  I wish I knew, I am trying to encourage him to do it but so far he is not doing it,” Rauner said.

Rauner said Madigan has too much influence in Springfield.  

Democrats have said the governor is asking for unprecedented powers for his office.

But State Senator John Sullivan (D-Rushville) remained optimistic that an agreement on higher education funding can be reached soon.

“I have seen a softening in the rhetoric on some of the positions that some people in leadership have taken. And so I take that as an optimistic thing,” Sullivan told reporters Sunday before the McDonough County Democratic Coalition’s annual dinner.  Sullivan, who is retiring after 14 years in the Senate, was honored during the dinner.

Despite his optimism about reaching an agreement, Sullivan said higher education could experience repercussions from the budget stand-off for years to come.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.
Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.