CHAMPAIGN — After a five-month layoff, police recruits are back in the classroom at the University of Illinois Police Training Institute.
More than 40 recruits from across the state started classes last week in the 12-week basic law-enforcement program, which is offered four times a year.
Enrollment is up from past years and is expected to grow now that municipalities know "we are open for business again," said PTI Director Mike Schlosser.
The institute nearly closed over the summer after the UI concluded it could no longer afford to subsidize operations there. An agreement reached in July between the UI and the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board allowed the police academy to continue operations without a campus subsidy and expand its mission to include criminal justice research.
The institute, established by the Illinois Legislature in 1955, has been in a precarious position since 2010 when a university committee concluded it had little connection to the UI's educational mission and should no longer be subsidized. Since the economic downturn, enrollment at PTI declined, contributing to a loss in revenue.
Originally slated to close at the end of 2011, the institute remained open while state legislators, mayors and police chiefs lobbied the board for more time to come to an agreement. Specialty and advanced courses continued to be offered, such as firearms training, but basic law enforcement classes were suspended last spring.
The state provides about $325,000 annually in general revenue funding for the institute, but until now the UI provided anywhere from $625,000 to $1 million for its operations.
Schlosser said the plan now is to operate without a campus subsidy, through increased enrollment and budget and staff cuts.
"We've been able to reduce our budget significantly," Schlosser said, though he declined to provide specific numbers or a total budget until details are finalized.
The number of full-time employees at the institute has been reduced from 14 to five in recent years. The institute relies heavily on part-time adjunct instructors who work in the field to conduct the training courses.
The institute will get some financial assistance from the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, which certifies police training in the state. That includes laptops for every recruit as well as funds for research, Schlosser said.
Schlosser is hoping for enrollments of 50-plus students in future terms, to boost income. Some municipalities weren't certain the institute would stay open, so they enrolled students at other academies around the state this fall, he said.
Tuition is currently $4,601, which is paid by municipalities who hire the officers. They are reimbursed by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board
The institute is conducting an analysis of student costs. If the study shows that it costs more to train recruits than the institute charges, tuition could rise, Schlosser said. But the goal is to keep tuition the same if possible, he said.
As its first research project, the institute is reviewing and updating the required curriculum for the basic law enforcement program. The project is a collaboration between the state training board and the UI.
Schlosser, who holds a doctorate in education, is working with Angela Wiley, associate professor in applied family studies and director of child-care resiliency programs; and Laura Kunard, director of the Center for Public Safety and Justice at the UI Institute for Government and Public Affairs, whose research includes community involvement in public safety initiatives, fairness and equity in policing, and procedural justice issues.
Schlosser is also reaching out to other colleges and departments at the UI to find areas of research that could improve law enforcement.
He said it wasn't difficult to recruit this fall's class, despite the upheaval. He credited PTI supporters for keeping the issue alive and preserving the institute, including UI President Bob Easter, Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing, local legislators and Kevin McClain, executive director of the state training board.