Tom Kacich: UI stands alone with enrollment increase

Tom Kacich: UI stands alone with enrollment increase

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Illinois' more-than-two-year-long budget stalemate, which ended in July this year, clearly took its toll on the state's public higher-education system, enrollment figures show.

Public universities' head count dropped 2.3 percent from a year earlier, while community-college enrollment statewide was off 3.4 percent this fall compared with fall 2016, according to a preliminary report this month to the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

The head count also was down at independent, nonprofit schools in Illinois but by just 1.9 percent.

Nationally, overall postsecondary enrollments decreased 1 percent from the previous fall, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. That includes a 0.2 percent drop at public four-year institutions and a 1.7 percent decline at public two-year institutions.

But the reduction was much more severe at most Illinois public universities, which went virtually without any state operating funds in fiscal years 2016 and 2017 while Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic Legislature fought over the state budget and other issues.

The head count at Western Illinois University fell 11 percent this fall, followed by 10.9 percent at Chicago State, 9.8 percent at South-ern Illinois-Carbondale, 7.2 percent at Northeastern Illinois, 6.5 percent at Eastern Illinois, 5.4 percent at Governors State and 4.4 percent at Northern Illinois.

Only the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (up 0.2 percent) and the University of Illinois at Chicago (up 8.3 percent) reported enrollment gains.

Enrollment losses were even worse at some individual community colleges: off 5.4 percent at Parkland College, 11.4 percent at Richland Community College in Decatur, and 15.2 percent at Kaskaskia College in Centralia.

The IBHE offered no prediction on how higher education would fare in the fiscal year 2019 budget, but some higher-education officials in Illinois say they're afraid there could be another budget deadlock this spring and summer as Rauner and Democrats stake out political positions in advance of the November general election. A report this fall by Rauner's budget agency claimed that the current year's budget is about $2 billion out of balance, setting up a fundamental argument over state spending.

Prepaying property taxes

Champaign County Treasurer Dan Welch, who will retire this week as the longest-serving treasurer in the county's history (more than 19 years) is leaving office during an unusually busy period.

His workload isn't usually this heavy in late December, but the federal tax changes made by Congress this month have meant an uptick in tax payments. Some property owners are prepaying in order to be able to maximize their 2017 income tax deductions.

"The advance payments are coming in hand over fist. Last year, 283 people paid $3.1 million" in advance payments, Welch said.

But through Thursday, $2.9 million had already been collected in advance payments this year.

"We've allowed this for as long as I can remember, way before I became treasurer," he said. "It's just a matter of if somebody wants to pay in advance, it's just less that we have to collect later on."

Welch noted that of the 74,000 owner-occupied properties in Champaign County, 1,256 had property tax bills of more than $10,000.

The new tax bill limits deductions for state and local property, income and sales taxes to $10,000, beginning next year.

Welch said the treasurer's office will accept prepayments through Dec. 31. Taxpayers can pay a minimum of 50 percent and a maximum of 110 of last year's tax bill, he said.

Campaign Christmas gift

One of eight Democrats seeking his party's nomination for Illinois attorney general, state Rep. Scott Drury of Highwood reported on Christmas Eve a $295,000 contribution to campaign fund.

Most of it — $170,000 — came from himself. He also reported $125,0000 from his father, Larry Drury of Highland Park.

Among the other Democrats seeking the nomination for attorney general are former Gov. Pat Quinn, state Sen. Kawme Raoul, former federal prosecutors Sharon Fairley and Renato Mariotti, Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering, Chicago Park District board President Jesse Ruiz, and Aaron Goldstein, a onetime defense attorney for ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

All eight Democratic candidates are from either Cook or Lake counties.

There are two Republican candidates, Erika Harold of Urbana and Gary Grasso of Burr Ridge, although an objection has been filed to Grasso's candidate petitions.

Londrigan endorsement

Betsy Londrigan, one of five Democrats seeking to unseat U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, in the 13th Congressional District, has picked up another endorsement: this one from Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Chicago, who has been called the most liberal Democrat in the Illinois delegation and the 10th most liberal in the entire House.

"Congress needs more women like Betsy Dirksen Londrigan in Congress to help stop the radical agenda pushed by Donald Trump and Paul Ryan," Schakowsky said.

Londrigan, of Springfield, has also been endorsed by Emily's List and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette reporter and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 217-351-5221 or at

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Rocky7 wrote on December 27, 2017 at 7:12 pm

This trend is likely to continue as the population of the state of Illinois continues its out-migration.  Illinois is now the sixth largest state as opposed to fourth a few years ago..

Reykjavik wrote on December 28, 2017 at 4:12 pm

Puzzling that our governor, who thinks he is a good investor and good with money, so severely damaged one of the economic drivers of this great state.  

We can handle a small population loss but weakened educational infrastructure would is guaranteed to drive out the smartest. 

wykhb wrote on December 31, 2017 at 6:12 pm

I too remember less than two years ago, before Governor Rauner took office.  Everything was peaches and cream with great fiscal positions for all in Illinois, as long as you worked for the government.   Unbelievable how he has been able to cause so much damage so quickly, despite ridiculous tax increases at all levels of government.     

Weakened educational infrastructure, yet the UI has 3.5 $ Billion in the bank, enrollment has increased, and coaches are the highest paid employees.   Any outrage?  Nothing?  

Illinois will be the first state in bankruptcy, if you want to blame Rauner so be it.   Happy New Year, but with a lot less Federal Revenue, I don't think it will be over the top glorious for Illinois politicians when more residents reach their limits.    

catsrule wrote on January 01, 2018 at 9:01 am

Illinois' fiscal situation was bad under Quinn and has worsened significantly under Rauner. Rauner is the only governor in Illinois history to not approve a budget for higher education; the budget that was passed after 2 years was the result of a veto override and courage of a few GOP legislators who chose to prioritize their constituent's economic well being over the governor's agenda. As former governors Thompson and Edgar have stated, approving a budget is one of the most important things a governor is tasked with. Illinois cannot file bankruptcy, pass ex-post facto laws or violate the contract clause of the US Constitution. An unpopular combination of cuts and tax increases will be required for the foreseeable future. Contrary to what the billionaire funded Illinois Policy Institute or the News-Gazette would have us believe, passage of so called "right to work" laws, elimination of prevailing wage laws and evisceration of public sector collective bargaining in a race to the bottom won't address Illinois' fiscal problems. The "directional" universities in Illinois in particular have been devastated by Rauner's 2 year budgetary intransience and may not recover for decades if ever.

wykhb wrote on January 01, 2018 at 12:01 pm

  I note that the only solution mentioned is to raise taxes further, and something vague about cuts, but also unions something something.   Which union jobs would you like to cut?  Which social services would you like to cut?  Which taxes do you feel are too low?    

  Really, be specific here because the state has been in trouble quite a long time before Rauner came along, yet they seem to be broadcasting the same message over and over as the ship continues to sink.       Governors are NOT tasked with passing "any" budget, they are tasked with passing a fiscally sound budget, and if a democratic legislature will not present one, well isn't that also part of the problem?   Tell me about Blagojevich and Quinn.  The other governors you mentioned haven't been in office in 18 years at least, quite a bit happened since then obviously. 

Democrats have held control of both houses of legislature in Illinois since 2003, and until Rauner, the Governor office also.  Only one other state has been controlled by Democrats longer: West Virginia.     So Rauner or not,  nothing really changed except he was able to delay the same old game for just a little while, in the only way available to him. 

But you are right, most politicians know who they really work for, the heroes that threw themselves on the fire of partisanship will likely wiggle spinelessly out of office and jiggle directly into a lucrative state government or lobbying job, any bets which party will be taking care of them?

You are correct, nothing in Illinois is going to recover as long as nothing changes.  I guess the people leaving have tired of clicking their heels together and chanting the same old story line for so long now, while politicians and university coaches become richer and richer on the taxpayer dime.