CARTERVILLE — If the state's budget impasse extends into 2016, Southern Illinois’s higher education institutions will see a severe impact on programs, services and needy students’ ability to continue their education, college and university leaders said Thursday.
Presidents and vice presidents of the region’s community colleges and Southern Illinois University described the potential budget fallout before the Illinois Senate’s Higher Education Committee on Thursday morning during a budget hearing at John A. Logan College.
The hearing was one of four scheduled throughout the state this week and next.
JALC’s Interim Vice President of Student Affairs and Community Education Larry Peterson said administrators will not be able to continue fronting money for grant-funded programs, such as GED training and adult education, past November. And if the budget impasse extends to February, it would have “a very Draconian kind of effect on not only the institution but on the Southern Illinois economy.”
“We are more than willing to be good partners with you in this process, but we can’t continue like this much longer,” Peterson said.
College presidents — and a handful of students — also spoke impassionedly about the availability of MAP grant funding.
The Monetary Award Program, a state tuition grant that support’s Illinois’s neediest students, likely will remain withheld by the state until a budget is signed. Students said the unavailability of those funds could make college inaccessible for some.
JALC and SIU administrators are fronting students their MAP grants this semester but likely will be unable to do so next semester if a budget fix evades legislators. At Southern Illinois’s other community colleges, students will have to go without MAP grant funding for now.
Ja’Mia Purdiman, a JALC student and Marion native, testified that MAP grants have given her the start she needed to succeed in college.
“If other students are able to get this start as well, it will be a valuable investment for them and for the Illinois economy,” she said. “Those people, you don’t know where they could end up. They could end up owning their own business.”
About 77 percent of JALC students receive some form of aid to pay for college. Without that aid, administrators said students might not have the support to continue their education.
Brandi Husch, JALC’s student trustee, said the absence of certain state grant funding has the potential to impact a broad range of student-support services as well, from tutoring to childcare.
“You can’t put a number on how many students benefit because of these programs and end up being able to stay in college,” she said.
One by one, the presidents of Southeastern Illinois College, Rend Lake College, Shawnee Community College and Southwestern Illinois College took the stand and echoed JALC administrators’ and students’ statements. The longer legislators and Gov. Bruce Rauner take to reach a budget fix, the more harm will be done to Southern Illinois and its higher-education institutions.
“We can make it FY16, but we’ll be crippled, cobbled, and we will not be what we are,” said Terry Wilkerson, President of Rend Lake College.
Asked how the university would stomach a 31.5 percent cut to public universities this year, as Rauner has proposed, SIU President Randy Dunn said regional services, such as healthcare and support of public radio would all but disappear.
“We are at the point certainly at SIU that if we sustain that level of cut, we’re going to have to get out of that business” of providing regional services to the Southern Illinois community,” Dunn said.
At the committee’s table, senators espoused a range of viewpoints that often echoed their political affiliations.
Though he acknowledged the critical importance of investing in higher education, Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, said Illinois is a “poor state,” and residents must make sacrifices.
“The challenge of the budget in front of us is one of priorities,” he said. “We’re going to have to prioritize what’s most important. There are some programs that we’re probably going to have to say no to or delay.”
Throughout the nearly three-hour long session, McCarter asked administrators how much impact proposed policy reforms would have. In advance of a budget, Republicans are hoping to amend state policy relative to procurement code, worker’s compensation and pension responsibility.
Across the board, administrators said those fixes would help – especially when it comes to worker’s comp. Although, some said the timing is a bit off.
“The reforms will help, but they won’t help in time,” Wilkerson said. “They’re not an immediate savings.”
After years of cost-cutting and budget balancing, Wilkerson said community college leaders have been coming together to share administrative functions and pool resources. He wants to see that same spirit of cooperation in Springfield.
“We are doing everything that we know to do, and we are putting our differences aside,” he said. “It’s not a lecture, gentlemen, but there’s some good examples out there to look at, to take note of.”