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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.

Cash Infusion for WIU Still Falls Short of Full State Funding

Rich Egger

The Illinois Board of Higher Education agreed to provide additional financial support to three public universities.  The $20 million comes from the state's stop-gap funding measure.

“We’re encouraged. It shows that there is movement in Springfield,” said Dr. Jack Thomas, President of Western Illinois University, which is one of the schools getting additional financial support.

The money will be divvied up as follows:

  • $8,397,900 to Western Illinois University
  • $5,582.000 to Eastern Illinois University
  • $3,020,100 to Chicago State University
  • $3,000,000 to community colleges

The community college money might be allocated when the IBHE meets on December 13, 2016.

Thomas believes WIU is receiving more money than the other schools because its enrollment is larger and because it’s in need of the funding.

Thomas said the money will help pay salaries and other expenses.  He said the university’s monthly payroll is around $10 million. Thomas would still like to receive a full state budget, which he said would aid with planning.  But he feels better about where things stand with Western now than he did 12 months ago.

Credit Rich Egger
WIU President Jack Thomas at his desk in Sherman Hall.

“A year ago at this time there was such uncertainty with the state that we didn’t know what we were facing,” Thomas said. “We really didn’t know what we were dealing with. We never thought that we would go this long without receiving a budget from the state.”

The state has gone nearly 18 months without a budget due to a standoff between Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and Democratic legislators who hold majorities in both the House and Senate.

The standoff led Western to lay off some workers and furlough others.  Thomas said there are no plans to lay off any more workers. The furlough program, which began last Spring, was continued into the current fiscal year.

Thomas said the uncertainty created by the standoff hurt WIU’s enrollment.  Fall enrollment was down 6.5% from a year ago. Thomas said he’s pleased the decrease was not larger.

“It could have been (larger) based on the crisis of confidence in our state,” Thomas said.  He said despite that crisis of confidence, freshman enrollment was off by just eight students.

“It says that people still believe in our university. They still want to come here.”

He said Western cut tuition by 3% for incoming students, and he said Western is alone in Illinois in offering a cost guarantee program that includes room and board along with tuition and fees.  

Rich is TSPR's News Director.