CARBONDALE -- In between segments of “All Things Considered,” volunteer fundraisers Dennis Galloway and Pat Jones go to work.
It’s pledge drive time at WSIU, and with the university threatening to strip about 15 percent of the station’s budget because of proposed state cuts to higher education, volunteers and staffers alike are bracing for the worst.
“We want you to help us out and keep programming like ‘All Things Considered’ and all of the programs we have here at WSIU,” Galloway said, speaking to listeners through a microphone from the station’s studio on SIU’s campus.
Executive Director Greg Petrowich has warned that all local programming could be eliminated under the worst-case-scenario budget proposal.
The radio and television station is one of at least 25 university-affiliated organizations facing potential cuts should Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed 31.5 percent reduction to higher-education funding pass in the state legislature this spring.
Programs such as Southern Illinois University Press, the Small Business Development Center, University Museum and Continuing Education — all of which offer programs and services to the broader Southern Illinois region — have been asked to brace for tightened purse strings next year.
And in a region whose economy gets a nearly $900 million bump annually from SIU, experts anticipate those proposed cuts will reverberate financially from Cairo to Carmi.
“The loss would be felt tremendously throughout the entire footprint of Southern Illinois,” said SIU President Randy Dunn. “For a state university, and one that is as large a presence in its region like SIU Carbondale is, I think it has a huge impact. We create a great deal of the quality of life that we enjoy here.”
‘Very Difficult and Painful Exercise’
According to an economic impact study published by the university in 2011, the university directly and indirectly supports more than 12,000 jobs in the region, thereby generating $551.5 million in personal income.
And for every $1 appropriated by the state to SIU, $2.90 in economic activity is generated in the state’s southernmost 23 counties.
In an e-mail message this past week, Judy Marshall, SIU’s executive director of finance, asked more than two dozen groups to consider the impact of a 50 percent reduction in university funding next year.
Like WSIU, most of those groups receive their funding through some combination of state money, grants and other contributions. If Rauner’s proposed cuts go through, university officials said they’d prioritize cuts to those groups because their work falls outside the core university mission of education and research.
“It’s a very difficult and painful exercise,” said Rae Goldsmith, the university’s chief marketing and communications officer. “Unfortunately, it causes a lot of angst, but we have to go through it.”
Group directors submitted impact statements to the university Friday in the run-up to a closed advisory meeting on Monday, during which members of the Executive Planning and Budget Committee will advise administrators on how to move forward.
Goldsmith said no action will be taken at the meeting.
For $25 per semester, Alex Hutchinson gets a headquarters.
In 2013, the SIU senior studying finance and marketing earned a spot with Saluki Venture, a program through the university’s Economic Development Center that provides him with guidance and support as he builds his online business.
Hutchinson envisions The Recipe Revolution as an online resource for Celiac disease sufferers to help them convert recipes into same-tasting, gluten-free versions.
“You’re in an environment where everyone wants you to succeed and helps you do it,” Hutchinson said after looking through a draft of his website’s home page with Aimee Wigfall, one of the center’s consultants. “It’s been pretty much paramount to me in terms of getting off the ground.”
Last year, the center helped students, professors and community members start 57 new business ventures, advised 529 clients and provided 3,595 hours of consulting.
Kyle Harfst, SIU’s executive director of economic development, oversees the programs, all of which are aimed at equipping Southern Illinois entrepreneurs with the tools they need to succeed.
Harfst said it’s too early to anticipate how the proposed cuts would impact each of his programs, but there are bound to be broad-reaching effects.
“With a cut, I don’t think we’d be able to support the work with that many clients,” said Harfst, who also co-authored the 2011 economic impact study. “The number of people we’re able to reach out to could be impacted.”
About 15 percent of the group’s budget comes from university-provided state funding. But, as is true with many programs, Harfst said cuts would have a broader footprint.
Many of the grants he receives require matching funds or assets. So, if state funding is cut, the center has less leverage to win those awards.
That domino effect is on many officials’ minds.
At the Southern Illinois University Press, cuts to funding will mean reductions in revenue, too.
The university contributes less than 10 percent of the publishing group’s overall budget of more than $1 million, but executive director Barb Martin said a 50 percent cut to state funding would mean substantial layoffs.
“We’d end up losing about half of our staff,” Martin said. “That would impact the number of books we’d be able to publish.”
Localized publications would suffer, too, she said.
“We publish a lot of books about this area, and some of them are very narrowly focused,” Martin said. “Going forward with these cuts, it’s probable we wouldn’t be able to publish those types of books because there’s a low return on investment.”
‘Something Has to be Done’
Harfst said he believes in the center’s programs, but with a business background, he understands the need for cuts.
“The state is in a dire situation right now on a number of fronts, but specifically with trying to balance the budget,” he said. “It doesn’t make it any easier, but certainly something has to be done to get the state on the right track.
Illinois faces a budget deficit of more than $6 billion in fiscal year 2016.
In a statement to The Southern Illinoisan on Friday, Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly reiterated Rauner’s commitment to education.
“The governor believes education is the most important thing we do as a community, and he is committed to ensuring everyone has access to a high-quality education,” the statement reads. “His budget preserves funding for community colleges and to the financial aid program for students who need assistance paying for college.”
Kelly also said proposed reductions to higher education amount to less than 6 percent of university's total budget.
Dunn said that number is "closer to 8 percent than 6," given the university's $431 million budget this past year.
“The tale there is much more nuanced than maybe what the governor’s staff is suggesting,” Dunn said. “And $32 million is still $32 million. If it comes first from the regional services we do … there’s no way that doesn’t get felt in a big way throughout 40-plus counties of Southern Illinois.”
Personnel and Programming
At WSIU, Petrowich said the university contributes about $1 million to the total budget. Losing half of that would result in deep personnel cuts — about 12 people — and program cancellations.
“It’s devastating,” he said. “I think it would mean the total elimination of all local content. We produce ‘River Region,’ ‘Scholastic Hi-Q,’ ‘Expressions,’ local news on the radio in the morning. We produce debates for political candidates, other forums that nobody else would do. If we can’t produce those programs, you’re not going to see those on television or hear them on the radio anymore.”