* Kate McGee at WBEZ…
Officially, state funding for higher ed is flat this budget year. But as the pandemic continues, experts warn its unlikely public universities will survive unscathed. Absent more federal aid, Governor JB Pritzker’s threat of 5% to 10% across-the-board budget cuts could be disastrous for some public universities. The pandemic has created an estimated $6.5 billion dollar budget shortfall in Illinois this year. When there’s economic recessions, higher ed is usually the first to see cuts.
“Higher ed is facing a cliff,” said Jennifer Delaney, a higher education policy professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “We’ve been delayed a bit by the federal stimulus money, but by the start of the year, certainly in next academic year, we’re going to fall off the cliff in terms of the state’s ability to fund higher ed.”
This is especially unwelcome news to regional public universities like Eastern or Western Illinois. Many are still recovering from the budget impasse that forced mass layoffs and pushed a few public universities to the brink of closure. An infusion of money since then by Governor Pritzker was quickly undercut by COVID-19.
“We thought the budget impasse was bad,” Applegate said. “We didn’t know it was just bootcamp training for the pandemic.”
The pandemic hasn’t just hurt revenue streams, but it’s increased costs as well. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has spent $44 million on reopening so far this fall, including on personal protective equipment, quarantine housing and their expansive COVID-19 testing operation.
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