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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: There is Nothing Left to Cut

Rich Egger

Western Illinois University is continuing to urge state lawmakers to approve a new state budget that adequately funds higher education.

Illinois’ last budget was for Fiscal Year 2015 (July 1, 2014 to June 20, 2015).   Pat Quinn was governor when that budget was approved.  He was defeated in the November 2014 election and his successor, Bruce Rauner, has been unable to work out a spending agreement with state lawmakers since taking office.

“We have made reduction after reduction. We’ve cut to the bare bone and I’ve been saying that for a while now,” said WIU President Jack Thomas during an interview with Tri States Public Radio in Macomb.

“The budget situation is unacceptable in our state. It has created a crisis of confidence. Illinois has the second largest migration of students to other states.”

Credit The New York Times and the U.S. Department of Education.

Credit Rich Egger
WIU President Jack Thomas in his office at the start of the school year.

Dr. Thomas said representatives from Western told state lawmakers this past week that the school has been trimming expenses for the past 15 years, which is when the state started reducing its financial support of higher education.  Among other things, Western has dropped programs, issued layoffs and furloughs, and left positions vacant through attrition.

“It’s time for the state – for the legislators and the governor – to come together to invest in higher education,” Thomas said.

Thomas said a stop gap funding measure approved last June and a special payment in December helped Western tremendously. But they provided WIU with only a fraction of the state funding it would normally expect.  Thomas said the lack of a budget makes it difficult for WIU to follow its strategic plan and prepare for the future.

Thomas declined to say whether the state should increase its revenues or if he supported a particular plan for increasing revenues in order to balance the budget.

Thomas said despite the uncertainty, WIU continues to educate and graduate students who go on to be productive citizens.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.