Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
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.

Calling for WIU to Demonstrate a United Front against the State's Inaction

Rich Egger
WIU and other public universities in Illinois continue to get the cold shoulder from the state of Illinois.

The state of Illinois has gone 18 months without a budget.  And the stop gap spending plan is about to expire with no new deal in sight.

So Bill Thompson, head of the University Professionals of Illinois chapter at Western Illinois University, said higher education must collaboratively push for change by pressuring politicians to come up with a budget. 

“We're asking you to work with us. Not against us. Not around us. But with us,” Thompson said during remarks given at the WIU Board of Trustees meeting in December.

Credit Jonathan Ahl
UPI's Bill Thompson (foreground) with WIU President Jack Thomas.

“We have repeatedly asked the administration in the past to lobby with us in Springfield. The administration has chosen to go its own way. That's their right. But this is a time when we need to be united and work together. And the Board of Trustees needs to be part of that. I believe you need to be out front and center.”

The board neither accepted nor declined Thompson's invitation.

But Chairwoman Cathy Early said she sees no consensus building between Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the Legislature.  She said the two sides are firmly entrenched, leaving higher education -- along with other agencies and services -- caught in the middle.

And that, she said, is frustrating.

Holding the Line on Tuition; Covering MAP Grants

During its meeting, the BoT agreed to keep tuition rates the same for next year’s incoming freshmen as this year’s class.

Credit Rich Egger
WIU President Jack Thomas at his desk at the start of the 2016-17 school year.

“We want to make sure that we continue to be that public institution that is affordable,” said University President Jack Thomas.

“I often say that if it had not been for public institutions like Western Illinois University, many of us wouldn’t be here today, including myself.”

Western and other public universities in Illinois lock in the tuition rate for four years.  But WIU is the only state school that also locks in student fees and room and board rates. 

Trustees will set those costs at their next meeting in March.

A year ago Western reduced tuition by 3% for new students.  Budget Director Matt Bierman said Western cannot afford to do that again because of the uncertainty of state funding.

The uncertain state funding also means WIU will cover the cost of the Monetary Award Program, known as MAP grants, for the spring semester, just as did in the fall, and hope the state will eventually reimburse it for the cost.

The grants help students from lower income families pay for college.

Dr. Thomas said it’s important for the university to front the money because many of its students come from low socio-economic backgrounds.

“If many of them do not receive the MAP funding they will not be able to attend college,” Thomas said.

Western should have received around $5.5 million dollars from the state to pay for the grants in the fall. The program will cost a similar amount in the spring.

Western also went through much of last school year without receiving the MAP grant funding before the state finally came through late in its fiscal year. 

Rich is TSPR's News Director.