UI officials: Tuition off table for now, but plenty of cuts are possible

UI officials: Tuition off table for now, but plenty of cuts are possible

SPRINGFIELD — A tuition increase is off the table this year but just about everything else is on it at the University of Illinois if big budget cuts are enacted, top UI officials told lawmakers Thursday.

Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposed budget calls for a 31.5 percent, or $209 million, reduction at the UI for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

In separate appearances before House and Senate appropriations committees, UI officials outlined possible areas for cuts: personnel, student employment, extension services, public broadcasting and more deferred maintenance.

But Republican members of both the Senate and the House prodded university officials to seek efficiencies and to embrace reforms, including changes in workers compensation and procurement policies.

At times, lawmakers seemed intent on getting UI President Robert Easter and Illinois State President Larry Dietz (who preceded him in both hearings) to endorse their partisan goals.

It likely was the final appearance before an appropriations committee for Easter, who officially steps down as president in May.

"As I walked away, I thought, 'I won't have to do this again,'" he said with a smile minutes after wrapping up the Senate session. "I think the members are truly trying to help us in a very difficult situation. I didn't sense that it was an adversarial conversation at all. It was a conversation where they are trying to deal with some incredibly difficult issues. I don't envy them."

The House hearing was more contentious, although most of the feuding was during Dietz's presentation when Democratic Reps. Thaddeus Jones of Calumet City and Ken Dunkin of Chicago called on Republicans to support a tax increase.

"We have some tough medicine coming ahead but the obvious choice is new revenue," Jones said. "Don't just say we're going to cut, cut, cut. Actually put some skin into the game."

"I want to make sure that we're clear as a committee to know that we have to act like big boys and big girls when it comes to doing what's right for this state, not for our political party or purposes," added Dunkin, the chairman of the House higher education appropriations committee.

But Republican Rep. Robert Pritchard of Sycamore responded that lawmakers "need to look at growing our economy rather than just taxing more."

Although Easter has appointed a "leadership group" to prepare for cuts, he said it's too early to say what the university's response will be once the budget reductions — which are considered inevitable at some level — are enacted.

"We have to know what we're dealing with before we can make those decisions," he said. "There are programs that one can justifiably use tuition to support and those are the programs that are related to the students and the research that faculty do to enable them to teach.

"But the programs that a land-grand university traditionally has managed and are a service to the public have to be paid by public resources."

In citing cuts to public services — one of the traditional missions of the university — Easter mentioned extension services that are offered in all 102 Illinois counties, and public broadcasting.

"We provide a myriad of services to the state," he told the House committee. "We operate a public broadcasting station here in Springfield for the benefit of the public. I'm not sure a year from now we can do that. We operate a public broadcasting station in Urbana for the same reason. They're valued.

"Can we continue to do that and how do we fund that? One could argue that that should be public money, not tuition dollars that supports those things."

Later, though, Easter said he mentioned the public stations "because I was trying to think of an example that was tangible. I'm no more serious about that than any other thing. I don't want to create anxiety there."

UI officials portrayed any tuition increases as a last resort.

"We're at the top of the Big Ten now," Easter said. "Parents find it challenging to send their students. I think the (UI) board will have to look very, very hard at any proposals for an increase."

Said Christophe Pierre, the UI's vice chancellor for academic affairs: "Presently, it would be very difficult for us to increase tuition, but if we had to increase tuition because of the budget cuts of 31.5 percent, it would be the equivalent of about a 20 percent increase in tuition for all of our students. It's not something we want to do."

In both hearings, Easter had to tolerate snide remarks about the UI's lack of success in basketball this season, particularly since he followed Dietz, whose Illinois State team won its opening round game in the National Invitational Tournament.

"We have sports programs, obviously, on each of the campuses. This was not a good basketball year anywhere within the University of Illinois, so we're focused on academics for now," he said.

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aantulov wrote on March 20, 2015 at 11:03 am


Where to cut?

As far as student increases in keeping with a conservative agenda I can only suggest increasing fees for foreign nationals along with a stop to any waivers of tuition, and an increase interest of loans provided.

Krannert performing and visual arts brings revenue to the area with their free events however I do notice the profit making offer of food is mismanaged, often closed during peak times. Keeping those spaces open as a part of the hospitality program might be a win/win for both programs.

Dismantling the radio station seems political and hasty but leasing it for limited times, may make it pay for it self while raising the bar for students participating in marketing.

Dismantling the support for the Daily Illini and Buzz for a designated period and having them reappear as section in the News Gazette seems like an idea worth trying giving its poor quality. This might also give a wider audience for events held at the U of I.

I would like to see a drastic reduction of salary for high profile coaches, immediately and held until a winning team emerges.

Cutting basic services in downgrading a legacy and could provide less safety in the buildings via staff presence.

The biggest drain to the budget anyone might guess is the archaic green houses kept heated all winter. I would suggest closing them until money can be raised from donation to have them redone and green energy supplied. The bill from last winter might solve the entire budget issue.

BruckJr wrote on March 20, 2015 at 1:03 pm

Take a few minutes to scroll through some of the majors offered at the University:


You can easily find a dozen majors there that offer no marketabe skills for students.  The list also includes many that have no hope of paying for themselves.  Cut a few dozen of these deadwood programs and you'll have a balanced budget.