Higher-ed leader wary of state budget

Higher-ed leader wary of state budget

Further cuts to Illinois higher education will curtail any progress made on improving the state's college completion rates, warns the executive director of the state's board of higher education.

On the eve of Gov. Pat Quinn's annual budget address, James Applegate said the state has been making progress toward its goal of having 60 percent of its workforce earn a "quality college credential" such as a certificate, two-year or four-year degree, by 2025.

But any further budget cuts could hinder moving forward, he said.

In 2008, the percentage of Illinois adults with postcollege credentials stood at 40.8 percent. It rose to 41.7 percent in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's Community Survey. (2012 data is not available yet).

"We understand it's a difficult budget situation in Illinois. But if Illinois doesn't find a way to provide the support for its education system, and we've heard these phrases before, it's not investing in its future," said Applegate, who assumed the post of executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education last month.

State universities, including the University of Illinois, have been told to prepare for a 12.5 percent cut in state funding next year.

The UI's general revenue funding for fiscal 2014, which ends June 30, is about $647 million. Including money for the state scientific surveys, the total appropriation is about $663 million. The budget for fiscal year 2014 was essentially the same as in fiscal 2013.

For the UI, a 12.5 percent cut would amount to about $80 million, the school has said,

"The point we've been making with our legislative leaders: Given the demands in Illinois for an educated workforce, we're hopeful they can at least find a way to provide a flat budget for higher education," Applegate said.

He and other agency heads are expected to be briefed on Quinn's budget Wednesday morning.

Quinn will deliver his budget address at noon in the Statehouse. WDWS-AM 1400 will carry his speech live.

"I'm hopeful the governor will be proposing as much support as he can to keep the educational system whole," Applegate said.

That system includes the state's Monetary Assistance Program, a need-based financial aid program that helps pay tuition for low-income college students. Earlier this year, Quinn said he hoped to double funding for that program.

Overseen by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, the financial aid program received $373 million for the current fiscal year. In recent years, as the cost of tuition increases across the state and student need has risen, only about half of qualified students who apply will receive the grants.


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