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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.

Small and Mid-Size Public Universities Feeling Brunt of Illinois Budget Stalemate

Rich Egger
Sherman Hall is the administration building at WIU.

Higher education has been among the areas feeling the pain from the state budget impasse in Illinois as funding has been cut.  It has forced some schools to reduce classes, lay off employees, and, in some cases, close for several days. 

But a review of enrollment indicates small and mid-sized public universities are taking a double hit.   

Credit ICPR

“We found our large schools, our flagship schools, they are experiencing modest increases in enrollment over the past couple of years. And that’s on trend with some other states,” said Sarah Brune, Executive Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.  She said the group conducted the study to see the effects of the impasse on the institutions.

The small and mid-sized schools are seeing declines, meaning not only less state funds, but also fewer tuition dollars.

Over both 2 year and 5 year time frames, some schools have seen big drops in the number of students who attend.

“We wanted to look into that and use enrollment, which is only one of the many factors you can look at,” she added. The ICPR also compared the 2 year enrollment changes to schools in some other states.

“We saw that our small schools, while other states are experiencing trends of enrollment growth up to 8 percent over the past couple of years, our schools experienced decreases of about 10 percent.”

Credit ICPR

While the budget impasse could be playing a big role, it doesn’t account for all of the enrollment declines, which is a long term trend at some schools. But Brune said the impasse is playing a role currently and points out there are repercussions that are hard to ignore.

“One thing we want to look at further are MAP grants,” Brune said.  Those grants are administered by the state to students who qualify to help cover tuition and other costs.  Many of those grants have failed to come through during the impasse.

“Some students have literally slipped through the cracks and have had to leave their school,” she said. It appears more students are also considering going out of state.

“If there is the fear of that happening, of course students are going to want to pursue other options because they want stability.”