* The Sun-Times editorializes about the more than 114,000 Illinoisans who left for other states in the past year and connects it to the big squeeze on higher education…
Those are broad strokes. So let’s consider how Springfield’s failure to govern has played out in one specific area: Higher education. The quality of public universities is at the heart of why many people choose to live in one state or another, and Illinois has long been known for some of the best. But the state Legislature has chipped away at funding for universities for two decades, and Gov. Bruce Rauner came into office saying he wanted to cut higher ed funding by a third.
Then came the end of state budgets. Since then, money for higher education has been sporadic, unpredictable and insufficient. Current funding will end with the expiration of the state’s stopgap spending plan on Dec. 31, and the universities have no idea when they will see more funding. They are in crisis mode: freezing hiring, cutting staff and delaying maintenance.
When a state cannot be bothered to write a budget, a public university cannot plan. It cannot offer certainty about tuition or faculty pay or what programs will continue on.
Should anybody be surprised, then, that Illinois this fall suffered a net outmigration of 16,000 higher ed students? Our state is losing bright young people to other states. They will embark on careers and offer their talents elsewhere.
A preliminary report this week by the Illinois Board of Higher Education reveals that enrollment is dropping in all centers of higher education in Illinois — public universities, community colleges and private colleges, which typically depend on state scholarship aid for some of their students. Southern Illinois University at Carbondale suffered the biggest loss — 6½ percent of its enrollment, including 11 percent of its graduate students.
As tuition rises and university finances grow shakier, students and their families are hesitating to enroll at an Illinois school that might cut back on classes or even shut down, making it hard or impossible to graduate. As Illinois State University President Larry Dietz points out, this is the time of year when students and their families are making decisions about where to enroll in the fall.
Financial aid is contingent on a state budget, but nobody knows if and when there will be one. The stopgap budget that expires in a couple of weeks provided money to pay off last year’s Monetary Assistant Program scholarships, but included no such funding for this year.
We really need a budget, man.