* Steven Strahler at Crain’s…
Kim Coble is among scores of professors fleeing Illinois because of the state’s precarious fiscal condition and erratic funding of higher education. After years of climbing the academic ladder, she’s decided to take a chance in California, even if it means giving up tenure and descending a rung.
“I felt that an untenured position in another state was more secure than a tenured position in Illinois,” says Coble, 45, a Chicago State University astrophysicist headed to San Francisco State University and trading a full professorship for an associate one. That’s not the only blow: She’ll pay $3,400 for a two-bedroom apartment (before a one-time $6,000 stipend), two and a half times the $1,350 a month for her three-bedroom co-op in Hyde Park.
Higher ed is in turmoil across the country as states cut support and pressure builds to slow tuition increases. But debt-ravaged Illinois is a special case. Gov. Bruce Rauner wants to chop funding by 20 percent and shift some pension obligations to schools; the stopgap budget approved in June means higher ed will get less—$1.6 billion—over 18 months than the $1.9 billion it got in the 12 months through mid-2015. Hundreds of university employees have been laid off.
More students are heading out of state, too, compounding the professorial brain drain. The exodus could take years to reverse, further threatening the long-term health of the Illinois economy.
“Nobody wants to touch Illinois with a 10-foot pole right now,” says Tanya Cofer, 42, a Northeastern Illinois University math teacher who, with her husband and colleague, Isidor Ruderfer, is leaving to join the faculty of the College of Coastal Georgia in Brunswick (population 15,383).