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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 President: "We Must Continue to be Fiscally Conservative"

TSPR Emily Boyer

Western Illinois University will receive $47.2 million under the state's budget for Fiscal Year '19, which begins July 1, 2018.  That reflects a 2% funding increase for public higher education across the state.  WIU President Jack Thomas told Tri States Public Radio that the slight funding increase is helpful following several years of financial uncertainty including the two year state budget impasse. 

Thomas said the fact that the legislature was able to pass the budget on time shows the state is moving forward and making higher education a priority.

He said it also better positions the university to plan for the future.

“At least we can begin to look at the brighter side of things and then look at the future and look at some of those goals and things we have in our strategic plan that we so desperately need,” Thomas said. “In terms of deferred maintenance, in terms of investing in programs, in terms of helping with various things for faculty, staff, and our students, so we are excited.”

Still, Thomas said Western must continue to consider all cost-saving options.

After Governor Bruce Rauner signed the budget bill, Thomas sent an email to the university community saying Western “must continue to be fiscally conservative” given employee contractual obligations, possible future financial uncertainty, and projected declines in student enrollment.           

Thomas said Western will also receive a $50,000 grant to create the Gwendolyn Brooks Memorial Park on West Adams St.. He said funding for Western’s Center for Performing Arts ($89 million) is also under consideration in the legislature. The project has been sidelined for several years.

The state budget includes funding for MAP grants for low income students.

Emily Boyer is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.