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SIUC’s budget crisis recovery challenged by enrollment struggles
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SIUC’s budget crisis recovery challenged by enrollment struggles

SIU enrollment

Pulliam Hall is seen in the background as students walk between classes at SIU in September 2017.

EDWARDSVILLE — It will be 2025 before the Southern Illinois University Carbondale income fund emerges from the deficit it incurred during the 2-year state budget standoff.

Left $73 million short by the state, the university kept its bills and employees paid by borrowing internally, according to Judy Marshall, the university’s vice chancellor for administration and finance.

“We ended up with all the bills paid but we were short $38.2 million,” Marshall remembers. “We put together a plan and … we acknowledged over time we would need to restore the cash reserve.”

The university has committed to its board of trustees to pay back $5.5 million on the deficit, each year. Three years later, it’s down to $25 million, Marshall said.

But the university’s enrollment struggles heighten that financial strain.

After total enrollment declined 7.5%, 9.8% and 13.6% in each of the last three years, enrollment this year is down 8.75% over last fall, to 11,695 students, the university announced last week.

All Illinois public universities got a funding 5% bump this year thanks to Gov. JB Pritzker’s first budget, but that increase was more than offset by the university’s decreased student tuition revenues, Marshall said.

And state funding remains anemic compared to the past: the university’s state funding is still 5% below its 2015 level.

Those factors have university leaders continuing to seek ways to cut costs.

By Oct. 15, SIUC’s vice chancellors, who report directly to Chancellor John Dunn, must present Dunn their plans to trim at least 3% from their budgets, he told the Southern.

“We hope with the caveat that this does not negatively impact the current workforce,” Dunn said.

Dunn appeared before the SIUC Faculty Senate recently, he said, to inform professors that he would not be requesting salary raises for them from the board of trustees this year.

“I shared that info with regret,” he told the Southern. “I think they’re deserving but the resources are not there.”

Carbondale gave raises in 2009 (3%), 2010 (3.5%), 2012 (1%), 2013 (1%), and 2014 (2%), then gave no more campus-wide raises until this past fiscal year (1%).

SIUE, by comparison, has given more frequent and larger salary increases than the Carbondale campus, over the last decade, records show, awarding campus-wide faculty and staff raises in fiscal years 2009 (3%), 2010 (3.5%), 2011 (2.5%), 2012 (3%), 2013 (2.5%), 2014 (2%), 2017 (2%), 2018 (2%) and 2019 (1%).

The Carbondale campus continues to spend more than its sister school on faculty, and give educators a greater percentage of the university’s overall operating budget (76% vs. 72% at SIUE).

But the recent lack of raises has seriously impacted faculty morale, said David Johnson, an SIUC professor and president of the Faculty Association, a union that represents tenured faculty.

The union and the SIUC administration did a joint salary study several years ago, Johnson said, which found SIUC faculty were paid about 15% less than those at “peer institutions”— other midwestern mid-sized public universities.

“We’re behind and falling farther behind,” Johnson said. “No one expects a 15% raise next year, but I think people were greatly disappointed that the administration made no effort this year.”

In total, the university has trimmed about $31 million in expenses since the budget impasse hit, about 15% of its budget. Much of the savings, university leaders said, has come through faculty and staff attrition.

University leaders continue to study the Athletics Department, which runs one of the highest annual deficits of any campus unit.

In 2016-2017, SIUC reported an athletics budget deficit of $4.06 million, the largest among public schools in the Missouri Valley Conference. The year before, 2015-2016, losses were $4.3 million.

More than 50% of the department's funding historically comes from student fees, which have diminished in recent years, alongside declining enrollment.

“Meetings have been ongoing between campus administrators and board members to develop a long-term solution,” Marshall told the SIU Board of Trustees on Wednesday.

Chancellor Dunn declined to give specifics on the reforms being considered for the department but said he’s seen multiple ideas “with potential.”

The university is also assessing the consequences of its status as one of the most generous in the region.

Last year SIUC gave out $42.5 million in tuition discounts through scholarships (funded through donations, endowments and university funds) and waivers, which come directly from tuition revenues, according to Marshall.

That’s over twice as much institutional financial aid as nearby Southeast Missouri State University, per 2018 numbers, and substantially more than Murray State University in Kentucky.

“We’re sensitive to the needs of our students and families,” Dunn said. “We’re doing more and more with analytics, looking at how can we and the students get the best return on those investments...It is possible we could get the same great outcomes with a lesser expense, if we are more selective and predictive.”

Currently there are no plans to reduce tuition waivers, Dunn said, which SIUC awards at a much higher rate than its competitors— including $38 million worth last year.

And any future change would not impact current students, as all university financial aid packages are guaranteed 4-year commitments, added Rae Goldsmith, CEO of the SIU Foundation, the university’s fundraising arm.

“In addition to staff compensation, increasing the amount of donor funding behind our institutional scholarships is top priority,” Goldsmith said.

Though financial recovery is a slog, there have been several recent positive signs, university leaders told the board, Wednesday.

The university was successful in its recent $75 million fundraising campaign, finishing seven months early. Athletics has increased fundraising and boosted revenue via the sale of naming rights to the SIU Arena, and the university has secured approval for new programs like nursing, business analytics and occupational therapy, which it hopes will attract new students.

SIUC also expects to receive about $5 million annually from the state to address deferred maintenance, Marshall said, once this year’s $45-billion capital bill begins to pay out.

“We are gaining momentum that will lead to enrollment growth over time,” Marshall said.

Multiple trustees agreed Wednesday, lauding the university’s management team.

“I applaud the effort that you and others have come together as a team,” said Trustee Ed Hightower. “It’s obvious we’re going to continue to see positive progress.”

This story has been updated to indicate SIUC's true total financial aid last year ($42.5 million) and the true amount awarded via tuition waivers ($38 million).

A description of substantial budget savings has also been updated, to clarify that faculty and staff attrition is a key factor.


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