State universities asked to ‘tighten belt’ to fill possible deficit

Multiple cuts already made over 2-year span

Analicia Haynes, Online Editor

Representatives from the nine public universities and three higher education agencies met with the Senate Committee on Higher Education Tuesday and were asked how they can “tighten their belts” in order to fill a proposed budget deficit.

After Gov. Bruce Rauner introduced a budget proposal in which spending exceeds revenue by $4.6 billion, committee chairperson, Sen. Pat McGuire of Joilet, posed a hypothetical question to higher education leaders, stating that if asked by the governor, what kind of cuts can they do in order to fill this deficit.

Chicago State University

In the wake of the budget catastrophe that started nearly two years ago, Chicago State University underwent financial change just to stay alive.

Declaring a state of financial exigency last spring, CSU Interim President Cecil Lucy said the university eliminated over 300 staff positions, eliminated spring break and accelerated the commencement ceremony.

“One year ago, our students put their lives on the line and put their lives at risk by walking onto the north bound lanes of the Dan Ryan Expressway at 95th Street in Chicago, Illinois to emphasize to this great state the importance of higher education to them and their lives,” Lucy said.

CSU cut an excess of $25 million of its costs from its budget and Lucy said they had the hope that “this great state” would do the right thing and provide a level of certainty and predictability to higher education.

The university saw a $16.2 million or 45 percent reduction in fiscal year 2016 and a $20.7 million or 57 percent reduction in FY 17.

Now, Lucy said the university is looking at a $30 million reduction compared to what they received in FY 15, the last time Illinois had a full budget.

Lucy said the university has cut all the fat from operations and no longer has any additional cuts that can be cut because the university is “basically down to the bone.”

“We have nothing else to give. We need full funding and our students deserve the full funding. As you all know higher education is a long-term commitment. We’ve been dealing with stop gap funding, bridge funding (and) it’s totally inadequate as it relates to meeting the needs and the successes of our students,” Lucy said.

Governor’s State University

“Well people have been talking about belt tightening, let me just say as far as Governor’s State University is concerned, our belt was gone in fiscal year 16,” Elaine Maimon, the president at Governor’s State University said.

In August, the university cut 13 programs, eliminated 62 positions and last Friday, its Board of Trustees approved an elimination of 22 additional programs bringing the total of eliminations to 35. The BOT also approved a 15 percent tuition increase for FY 18.

“Now let me put that 15 percent in context,” she said. “We will still be the lowest tuition in mandatory fees in the Chicagoland area. We may not keep our role as the lowest in the state.”

She said the university entered the impasse with the fewest academic programs in the state, so cutting programs is very hard.

She said the universities FY15 appropriation is by far the lowest in the state, and in FY 16, 70 percent of its appropriations were cut and 50 percent were cut in FY 17.

The BOT Friday said the cuts made were not enough and the university still needs to report back to the board with further cuts in order to meet the universities deficit.

By looking at ahead at finances, the BOT said the university has to fill a $2.5 million deficit.

“What that will mean for us,” she said, “we may have to look at closing a college and therefore not serving the south suburbs and the Chicagoland area with programs that they deserve.”

Illinois Board of Higher Education

Karen Hellend, the interim deputy director for fiscal affairs and budgeting, spoke on behalf of the Illinois Board of Higher Education and respectively declined to answer where cuts can be made to programs in IBHE.

She told the committee that the board puts together a budget recommendation for the fiscal year, which is then given to the governor and general assembly.

“Our recommendations aren’t intended to diminish the needs facing other essential state programs nor do they factor all the revenue and expenditure authority required to meet such needs for an entire state budget,” Helland said.

She said the recommendations are developed in response to the needs of the higher education operations program and capital projects as an independent budget.

Hellend was going to highlight five areas in the board’s FY 18 budget recommendations including Monetary Award Program grants.

It is estimated that a total of $944.2 million would be needed to cover all of MAP eligible students under the current formula, she said.

No appropriation has been made for MAP grants.

However, as she continued to highlight the recommendations made by IBHE, McGuire and Sen. Chapin Rose from Champaign-Urbana interrupted her and asked where the board can trim if the governor asked them to do so.

“That is something that our board of directors need to address,” she said. “At this point we have a budget recommendation that we feel is the best budget for the state in the higher education community.

Illinois Community College Board

Karen Hunter Anderson, executive director of the Illinois Community College Board, said the ICCB has no operating budget as of January 1.

“We have felt like we have maintained our mission our staff continued to come, we’ve found creative ways to do without and we are engaged with our system and the 48 community colleges to ensure that their priorities are on the students,” Hunter Anderson said.

“No operating budget,” McGuire asked.

“No operating budget,” Hunter Anderson said.

She said since the board has already figured out ways to operate without a budget so far, they can continue to operate with cuts but only for a certain amount of time.

When asked for how long and in what area, Hunter Anderson said it all depends on when a budget passes and said the staff is getting paid and until the landlord kicks them out, they are good.

Illinois State University

Larry Dietz, the president at Illinois State University, said the university can continue indefinitely without having to close its doors.

“One of the most frequently asked questions that I hear today is how long can you go (without a budget),” Dietz said. “Overtime my response to that question has changed and it has now evolved to the point where I tell people before I can offer an answer they need to finish the question.”

Despite unprecedented economic and political challenges ISU remains strong and stable, he said.

It set three straight quarter century records for freshman enrollment and total population on campus exceeds 21,000.

He said the university has not declared financial emergency or issued furlough days and are pushing back timelines for bigger projects.

“We have the lowest debt burden ratio and spend below budgeted levels. We have taken our cuts in the right places, we have eliminated or left vacant more than 129 faculty jobs, were keeping our teachers in the classroom and our student support staff in their offices,” Dietz said.

However, he said if the question was worded differently to include how long the state of Illinois continue before public universities are severely or permanently damaged, he said it has already happened.

Used ISU as an example, for FY 15 the universities state app was about $72 million dollars, which is less than 18 percent of the overall operating budget.

In FY 16, with the approval of two stopgap measures, ISU received $20.9 million in the first stopgap bill in April and $38.3 million in June.

The stopgap bill in June was to cover the first six months of FY 17.

“Few of any Illinois public universities used that money for FY 17 simply because we had bills to pay left over from FY 16,” Dietz said.

However, he said if the stop gap payment was meant for the then for FY 16 ISU received just $20.9 million, which is 29 percent of the FY 15 appropriation. That is a cut of 71 percent compared to what the university gets in a typical state appropriation.

ISU now has the lowest ratio of appropriation per student of any public university in the state.

“Let’s look at the question in a different way,” Deets said. “How long can you go before students and families lose confidence in Illinois and leave the state for other higher education opportunities? Or how long can you go before you see a significant brain drain and your best faculty and staff abandon Illinois for more stable and predicatbale opportunities. That has already happened.”

Deets pointed out that Illinois is the “only state in the union” without a budget for two years running and is the second largest exporter of college students in the nation.

“All this is traceable to our lack of a state budget and our lack of a state vision for public higher education,” Deets said.

However, he said he remains optimistic for the future of ISU and for the state.

“We’ve all managed during the worst financial crisis in the history of higher education in the state of Illinois, we’ve been accessible for hearings such as this one and have been willing to meet with the governor, the speaker and other elected officials to discuss issues that are within our purview of control and we have served our students despite unpredictable state funding and dramatic cuts in our budgets,” Deets said regarding the presidents and chancellors of the state universities. “It’s paramount that a compromise be reached.”

Illinois Student Assistance Commission

Eric Zarnikow, the executive director for the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, spoke on behalf of the importance of MAP grants and its role in helping low income students pursue higher education.

“MAP has always had very strong, bipartisan support,” Zarnikow said. “It’s really a critical program for the state.”

He said the stopgap bill in April paid for the first term of FY16 MAP claims and the second stopgap bill was used to fully pay MAP claims for the second term of FY16.

At this point, he said there is no money left for MAP or any other programs such as Golden Apple.

He said there has been uncertainty about MAP and said some schools were able to front the money for the grants while some could not and stressed that a budget is needed.

When asked what ISAC can cut if asked by the question, he said the question is hard to put into context.

“We’re ISAC, we support students,” Zarinkow said. “So we’re really not in the position to see the entire state budget and see what are the priorities that’s really for other people to look at and decide.”

Northeastern Illinois University

Vicki Román-Lagunas, the acting provost at Northeastern Illinois University, said NEIU Interim President Richard Helldobler could not make the hearing because he was facing the entire university community to explain a new round of furloughs.

She said the university is still in the midst of addressing current issues of furloughs and having to terminate almost 300 student workers on campus.

NEIU will shut down over spring break and she said they will continue the furlough program throughout the fiscal year after negotiations with the unions on campus.

Over the past four years the university eliminated over 100 fulltime continuing employees and just last year, 62 positions, 20 of which still had people employed, were eliminated.

“We have forgone faculty hiring plans, equipment replacement, computer replacement, library materials and we have very critical needs that need to be addressed through deferred maintenance,” Román-Lagunas said.

Speaking on behalf of Helldobler, she said the protracted delay and reductions in state support have tremendous impacts on the university.

“Our ability to maintain a strong option for students deciding on colleges is weakened and reduced. Current students will see disruptions in instruction by our furlough program and this will lead to a decrease in the quality of education. The proposal will likely cause the university we would have to drastically curtail operations even further if asked where cuts can be made,” Román-Lagunas said.

The spring break furloughs are only the beginning of the FY 17 furlough plan that the university needs to follow in order to continue having their doors open.

She said the university predicts that instruction time will be lost.

“I would respectively say that we have tightened the belt to the final point that we can,” she said. “You can’t continue furloughing, you can’t continue laying off, my colleagues across the state referred to more inefficiencies because we have terminated positions and our students cannot be served in the way that we’ve been serving them up till now if we are asked to give another penny.”

Northern Illinois University

Douglas Baker, president of Northern Illinois University, said the university was thoughtful in making reductions even before the budget impasse began starving higher education.

NIU initiated a program called program prioritization, where the university looked at over 400 academic degree programs and every nonacademic office in the institution.

“We prioritized those into different categories,” Baker said. “Places to invest, places to leave alone, places to disinvest, reorganize or eliminate.”

He said the program has helped the university think about the crisis at hand, but he said the crisis continues.

“So it’s a little bit difficult for us to answer what additional things we would do in FY 18 not knowing what our FY 17 budget is,” Baker said.

In FY 15, the state allocations for the university was $91 million. In FY 16, NIU rececived $26 million, a 65 millions reduction and in FY 17 it received $48 million, or 47 percent decrease from the FY 15 budget.

“As you know we had a half year budget and now we have no further funding for this year and we have a 71 percent reduction last year,” Baker said. “So with that backdrop it’s difficult given the large deficits we’ve had.”

What the university has done to deal with this large deficit is similar to other universities. Jobs were eliminated, there is a delay in hiring new faculty and staff, academic programs are eliminated several minors as well.

“Like the other presidents, we have cut already dramatically and are at the bone now,” he said.

Southern Illinois University System

Southern Illinois University Carbondale President Randy Dunn said the stopgaps that were given to universities last April and June were used to pay FY16 bills.

“We’re at a position were all of us have been through pretty significant first round of cuts and reductions and they’ve been major stressors to some degree,” Dunn said.

For SIU Carbondale there were cuts of $21 million, a little over $12 million of that came from salary lines, Dunn said.

The university cut 293 positions, half of those faculty at Carbondale and its reserves are “totally tapped.”

SIU Edwardsville has gone through budget realignment and 67 positions were eliminated.

SIU Carbondale is also suffering from ongoing enrollment problems.

“At this point we’re on hold,” Dunn said.

Dunn said the eliminated positions and layoffs within the SIU system may have hindered its ability to compete with outside schools.

“We always have great competition but given our geographic location we’re really bombarded for recruitment purposes from Missouri, Kentucky and Southern Indiana,” he said. “It’s no doubt (the faculty cuts) has hurt us.”

He said by possibly going into a second round of cuts, the discussion shifts to shutting down operations since the SIU system and other universities already resorted to cutting programs and services.

“We could take every one of those third ring programs and say we’re just closing them and we still wouldn’t be able to cover the bill for what it will do to SIU,” he said. “Then have to look at closing down academic departments and potentially closing down a college.”

He said if it results to this measure, it would send a tectonic shock through Southern Illinois.

“If we go through the spring with no support from the state it would be devastating,” he said.

University of Illinois System

Mike Bass, the senior associate vice president for business and finance at the University of Illinois System said they have not been able to survive by luck.

Over the last two years, the University of Illinois’ gross reduction was $764 million based on the revised FY 15 appropriation and the university in Urbana-Champaign reduced non-instructional staff by almost 500.

“But as staff as decreased enrollment has increased and we have 81,499 students enrolled. 80 percent of them are Illinois residents,” Bass said.

He said they saved about $20 million through reduced utility costs and debt financing and one of the biggest issues they face now is to make sure they have the ability to go out and invest in top tier faculty and keep its status

Over the last four years he said the system anticipated the impasse and started to save some treasure for that.

“Many cannot do that,” Bass said. “We are in a different position.”

In terms of reductions for the $4.6 billion, he said they will do what we continue to do what they have already been doing well and that is being a good steward for what they have.

When asked if the University of Illinois system was at risk of not becoming the next silicone valley for Illinois, he said the risk is possible but they need to still be prepared for it.

“We would work on economic side to see what we can do to help (the governor), we will continue to do the due diligence that we have in the last two or three years to right size us as best we can without sacrificing were we stand in the rankings of the universities. We would not succeed if we were going to be diminished,” Bass said.

Western Illinois University

Jack Thomas, the president from Western Illinois University, said since 2003, Western has been managing with less money and have been continuously looking at ways to run more efficiently while still providing a quality education.

Along with other state universities, he said WIU has cut academic programs, combined academic and administrative units and eliminated athletic programs as well as programs all across campus.

“We offered retirement incentives in FY 16, which was taken advantage by 59 employees, we laid off over 100 employees and furloughed over 400 employees in FY 16 and still have furloughed over 250 employees in FY 17,” Thomas said. “We have delayed vendor payments, we’ve swept all available funds and our faculty agreed to eliminate salary increases and took a salary reduction. We reduced spending in almost every area across our university.”

He said to answer this question is without knowing if the university will be receiving FY 16 or FY 17 funds is impossible and there will be no areas to cut in FY 18 especially without the rest of FY 17 funds.

Analicia Haynes can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].