In 1975, the state of Illinois paid roughly 82% of the cost for students to attend college. Over four decades later, Illinois now pays roughly 38% of that cost.
Billy Hung, media coordinator of Eastern’s chapter of the University of Professionals of Illinois and assistant professor of biology, said statistics such as this is what motivated him and his colleagues to speak out.
To raise further awareness, chapters of UPI from across the state have coordinated the “Teach Out for Illinois Higher Education” rally that will take place on Thursday at the Capitol Building in Springfield.
Buses will depart from outside Coleman Hall at 8:30 a.m. Thursday morning and will arrive at the Capitol Building by 11 a.m.
“I cannot in good conscience not speak up when this is the trend that is going on,” Hung said in reference to the importance of educating students and college campuses about how the absence of a budget will affect both.
Hung said he calls this a trend because it is not an isolated incident due to the lack of finances.
“It is not that Illinois can no longer afford to support higher education; this is an ongoing trend that has gone on for decades,” he said.
Even when Illinois did not suffer from a budget shortfall and the campuses still had higher enrollment, Hung said that the state continued to cut the budget by a small percentage every year.
Hung said it is important for not only the elected officials in Springfield to hear their message, but for the general public as well.
“I don’t think much of the public is aware of the impacts,” he said.
Seventy percent of graduates will be in at least $30,000 of debt, which Hung said is a result of the state passing on the bill for higher education to students due to having no budget.
“Every time the state says ‘look at us, we didn’t raise taxes,’ it’s partly because they’re taking money they could use for higher education and using it for something else,” said Hung.
Jonathan Blitz, president of EIU-UPI and chemistry professor, said they are confident that they will fill two buses on Thursday morning for the trip to Springfield.
Blitz said they will break up in groups of about ten and have teaching sessions about topics like the impact of MAP funding cuts on students, the importance of higher education on university partners and what citizens can do.
The sessions will last from approximately 11 a.m. to 12:40 p.m. and will be followed by the Rally for Illinois Higher Education.
Blitz said they are expecting thousands of people present, especially because at least a thousand UPI members are signed up to attend.
“We are going to fill that Rotunda…it’s going to be chaotic,” he said. “This is the first time a rally of this capacity has been attempted for this matter. It’s a brand new concept.”
Whether or not they are able to attend the rally, people are encouraged to use the social media hash tag #TeachOutIL to raise awareness about the higher education budget crisis that is impacting Illinois.
The fight for higher education will continue after the rally.
“We need to promote the awareness of what our government is doing to our students,” Hung said. “Once the voters become aware of this, they will hopefully then take the effort to hold the elected officials accountable.”
Hung said it is then when Illinois universities will see changes happening.
“We anticipate this to take multiple years,” he said. “We will definitely be hosting more events in the future to raise awareness and are open to any ideas to help with this issue.”
If students decide last minute that they would like to attend, EIU-UPI members will try to accommodate them and assist them with a ride Thursday morning.
Loren Dickson can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]