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CHICAGO — Members of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees spent much of Thursday’s meeting making their case — focused on student and faculty support — for a bump in state-provided funds next fiscal year.

The board’s proposed operating budget, approved unanimously during their final scheduled meeting of 2021, requests $683.2 million in state appropriations for fiscal 2023, a $61.2 million increase from fiscal 2022.

“For two decades, public universities have seen declining state support for operations,” Chief Financial Officer Avijit Ghosh said at Thursday’s virtual meeting. “We hope that given the state’s improved financial situation this year, we’ll see a reversal in that trend.”

Requests for appropriations are rarely fully met by the state. Last year, the UI requested $673.4 million in operating funds for fiscal 2022 — the state granted $622 million, the same as fiscal year 2021.

Fiscal 2022’s appropriation of $622 million was 18 percent less than fiscal 2010’s in nominal dollars and 36 percent less if adjusted for inflation, Ghosh said.

“The additional dollars we are requesting will be invested to further our strategic goals, to curb the outmigration of students in Illinois and to enhance our academic excellence by recruiting and retaining more faculty,” Ghosh said.

The school has requested $10 million from the state to fund additional scholarships for Illinois residents, and another $15 million — split halfway — to support the system’s pre-college “bridge” programs such as Illinois Scholars, and its on-campus mental health resources.

“College and universities are facing a crisis in mental health issues among our students,” Ghosh said. “The pandemic has exacerbated this crisis.”

A system-wide discussion on mental health held this fall attracted over 500 students, faculty and staff, he said.

“We know that we have to do more and seek the state support for it,” Ghosh said.

The UI requested $10 million for fiscal 2023 to hire more faculty to meet the school’s growing enrollment — now at a record-high 94,700 students across three campuses — along with more than $26 million to keep faculty salaries competitive.

Most undergraduates across the UI system — 71 percent in Urbana, 79 percent in Chicago and 81 percent in Springfield — do not pay full tuition and fees, Ghosh noted.

The UI system’s aid has increased by $122 million in the last 10 years, Ghosh said, keeping pace with increases in federal and state aid.

The UI system, through scholarships, fellowships, grants and tuition waivers, spent $261 million in undergraduate financial aid last year. Pell grants, MAPS grants and other federal and state sources provided $279 million in non-institutional aid.

“We now need assistance from the state to continue to keep higher education affordable for Illinois residents,” Ghosh said.

$68 million lab project

The requested capital budget appropriation, at $673.3 million, would support $171 million to update key academic buildings across its three campuses: $68 million for the Roger Adams Laboratory in Urbana, $70 million for the College of Business Building in Chicago and $33 million for the Brookens Building remodel in Springfield.

Another $240 million requested in the capital budget would help renovate the UI’s two largest libraries — $100 million for Urbana’s Main Library and $140 million for Chicago’s Daley Library.

“Academic libraries are going through a period of metamorphosis, being transformed into centers for collaborative learning, detailed resources and student success,” Ghosh said.

The UI requested $60 million to construct UIC’s Rural Health Sciences Building in Rockford, which would allow the inclusion of additional academic programs.

The final requested $202.3 million of the capital budget would service deferred maintenance and “deficiencies in many of our existing facilities,” Ghosh said.

“Obviously, we always need more support from the state and I’ll be speaking with the governor about that directly,” trustees Chairman Don Edwards after the budget presentation.

Outgoing trustee saluted

Also at Thursday’s meeting, trustees recognized the contributions of two-year member Kareem Dale, who is resigning from his post to move near family in Atlanta.

A resolution, read by board Secretary Greg Knott, stated: “You stood as a champion for our students and our commitment to a world-class education through your thoughtful approach to issues and the tough questions you asked.”

Dale, who earned his bachelor’s, master’s and law degree from the UI, founded his own Dale Law Group and served as top adviser on disability policy for former President Barack Obama before being appointed as a trustee in 2019.

“I greatly valued his counsel, is partnership, his friendship and his obvious love and loyalty to the University of Illinois,” said UI President Tim Killeen.

Dale provided his own thanks and remarks to the board.

“One of the most difficult parts, if not the most difficult part of this move, is having to leave the board, my wife Natasha and I needed to move to support our family down here in Atlanta,” he said.

Ethan Simmons is a reporter at The News-Gazette covering the University of Illinois. His email is esimmons@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@ethancsimmons).

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