Public universities advocate for state funding support

Campuses are engines of progress, officials tell legislative leaders

May 27, 2015

SPRINGFIELD — Presidents and Board of Trustee chairs representing each of Illinois’ nine public universities met face-to-face with top legislative leaders Tuesday to urge support for higher education funding in the state’s fiscal 2016 budget.

University of Illinois President Timothy L. Killeen arranged the afternoon of meetings to make the case that proposed funding reductions for public universities would damage a key engine for the state’s economic growth and competitiveness.

“We understand the difficult decisions that legislators face this spring to put Illinois on the road to recovery,” Killeen said. “But investing in public universities is an investment in solutions – and in the future of our state.”

Public universities are large-scale incubators of the human capital that is essential to drive progress, presidents and board chairs said during a series of meetings with House Speaker Michael Madigan; Senate President John Cullerton; House Republican Leader Jim Durkin; Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno; Michael Zolnierowicz, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s chief of staff; and Beth Purvis, the governor’s chief education advisor.

Combined, public universities in Illinois enroll nearly 200,000 students and send about 50,000 graduates into the workforce every year, “each and every one an economic engine for the state and beyond,” presidents and board chairs wrote in a letter that also was shared with members of the General Assembly.

The letter cites a recent Economic Policy Institute study that found high-wage states are overwhelmingly those with a highly educated workforce. According to a 2014 U.S. Department of Labor report, workers with a bachelor’s degree earn 65 percent more than workers with a high school diploma. The earnings gap is nearly double for workers with a master’s degree and almost 140 percent more for workers with doctoral or professional degrees.

Universities also leverage state support by attracting more than $1.2 billion in external funding that supports the state’s economy today and fosters groundbreaking research-based innovation that creates the new businesses and jobs of tomorrow, the letter says.

The benefits go much further, higher education officials said. Public universities also provide the broad-based education in liberal arts and humanities that produces well-rounded, civic-minded citizens who go on to lift their communities and the state.

A budget proposal by Gov. Bruce Rauner would reduce funding for higher education by $387 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1 and legislators are working to approve a new budget before their scheduled adjournment on May 31.

“We must not compromise on the excellence of our institutions and of the education we provide to the citizens of Illinois through damaging and precipitous cuts in funding,” presidents and board chairs wrote in their letter to legislators. “We believe that maintaining a robust, sustained, and predictable level of state support for our universities is absolutely essential for the future wellbeing and economic prosperity of our state.

University officials attending Tuesday’s meetings with legislative leaders were Killeen, Chicago State University President Wayne Watson, Eastern Illinois University Acting President Blair Lord, Governors State University President Elaine P. Maimon, Illinois State University President Larry H. Dietz, Northeastern Illinois University President Sharon Hahs, Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees Chair John R. Butler, Southern Illinois University President Randy J. Dunn, and Western Illinois University Board of Trustees Chair Cathy E. Early.

A copy of their letter to members of the General Assembly is available HERE.

A photo of university leaders at the Capitol is available HERE. Pictured, left to right are: front row, University of Illinois President Timothy L. Killeen, Northeastern Illinois University President Sharon Hahs and Governors State University President Elaine P. Maimon; middle row, University of Illinois at Springfield Chancellor Susan Koch, Illinois State University President Larry H. Dietz and Chicago State University President Wayne Watson; back row, Southern Illinois University President Randy J. Dunn, Eastern Illinois University Acting President Blair Lord, Western Illinois University Board of Trustees Chair Cathy E. Early and Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees Chair Dr. John R. Butler.

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The University of Illinois is a world leader in research and discovery, the largest educational institution in the state with more than 78,000 students, 25,000 faculty and staff, and campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield. The U of I awards more than 20,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees annually.