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Voice of The Southern: Fund our public universities

Voice of The Southern: Fund our public universities

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The state is running out of time.

That shouldn’t be surprising to anybody, but it really seems like our lawmakers in Springfield don’t realize what is going on.

We’re quickly approaching two years without a state budget. That’s nearly two years of little to no state funding for our universities, our social services and everything else.

That spells big trouble for Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Let’s face it, the situation is pretty serious — there are some in the state who say that budget won’t be reached until after the 2018 election.

SIUC is not alone here. Other state universities are in the same boat, some even worse.

In story in today’s paper, Kent Redfield, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said, “If we have no movement until after the 2018 elections, I think it would be a certainty some universities would not open that fall. I think Eastern, Western, Northeastern, and Chicago State are all the top of the list. The Carbondale situation is pretty tenuous as well.”

Is that alarming enough for the folks in Springfield? We hope so.

Those five universities equal nearly 35,000 students, according to spring 2017 numbers from the Illinois Board of Higher Education. According to the same numbers, there are 156,882 students enrolled in the state’s public universities. For those scoring at home, that’s nearly 22 percent of the state’s students.

Think about it for a second: Do you think students are going to enroll in a university that may not open? They answer should be a pretty resounding no. Do you think students are going to stay if a university may close its doors? Again, no.

And think about this — that could be up to 35,000 students leaving the state for college, paying more for out-of-state tuition. Nobody wants that.

It’s a problem, something that Jak Tichenor, interim director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at SIUC, called a “brain drain” in today’s story. “We’re losing some of our best and brightest in the state because of the impasse,” he said.

That’s no way to get the state on better grounds. In order for Illinois to get back to what it once was, the people who live here have to stay here.

And it would all start with funding SIUC and the rest of our public universities. And, don’t forget freezing the state’s sky-high property taxes, but that’s a story for another day.

Earlier this month, State Sen. Paul Schimpf said he’s been given “assurances” that lawmakers will vote by the end of May to get funding to universities on way or another. “Obviously, we would prefer a full budget, but if we have to do this incrementally then certainly a lifeline would be appreciated,” he said then.

Looking at the calendar, May is more than halfway over, and we’re in no better place today than we were nearly 10 days ago when he said that.

It’s time for lawmakers to have a real sense of urgency — the same urgency the rest of the people of Illinois are feeling.

SIU is already approaching other ways to get money. Last week, the Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees authorized a plan to allow the Carbondale campus to borrow from the Edwardsville campus until which time the state of Illinois approves a full annual state appropriation to the SIU System.

That’s a last-ditch effort to get the funding SIUC needs. But what does it really do? After all, the borrowing is just on paper only to show SIUC is in the black.

The real solution is get the funding from the state — remember, SIUC hasn’t been fully funded since fiscal year 2015.

The leaders of this state — whoever and wherever you are — need to lock themselves in a room and come up with a full, balanced budget agreement. If that can’t be done, then shame on you, but at least find a way to fund our universities.

The state of Illinois cannot afford a “brain drain.” In reality, it can’t afford more draining of any kind.


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