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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 Early Retirement Program "Very Successful"

Rich Egger

Western Illinois University Budget Director Matt Bierman said the school will achieve savings beginning next fiscal year thanks to the early retirement incentive package offered late last fall.

Bierman said 59 people took advantage of the program:

  • 12 administrative and professional staff
  • 8 faculty members
  • 39 civil service employees

“The incentive payouts that we paid were a total of $914,000,” Bierman said.  “When you added sick and vacation payouts to that, about $1.7 million went out the doors in January and February.”
He said savings will come from leaving those 59 positions vacant or by filling them with workers making less money.

“We expect that program to be very successful even though it had a little bit of a cash crunch at the beginning of the year,” Bierman said.

Enrollment Remains a Concern

Western’s effort to keep down costs for students have yet to spur an increase in projected enrollment.

President Jack Thomas said it looks like the University can expect an even smaller freshman class this fall.

“How much (smaller) we don’t know at the moment. But based on what we have and what I’ve gotten from my director of admissions, we will be down,” Thomas said.

WIU is trying to boost enrollment through several measures:

  • A 3% decrease in tuition for incoming students;
  • Room and board costs will remain flat for incoming students;
  • Holding fees flat for incoming students.

Dr. Thomas said Western prides itself on being affordable, even at a time when the state is diminishing its financial support for public higher education.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.