Pritzker proposes more money for state’s college, universities

A state senator says the best way to control costs at the state’s public universities is to rethink its large and expanding footprint and avoiding skipping pension payments.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Illinois’ public universities have asked for 10 percent increased funding from taxpayers. He’s is looking to give them half of that, or a total of $1.16 billion. Work in pensions, tuition assistance grants and other higher education expenditures, and the governor’s proposed total is more than $4 billion.

Even though the governor is proposing a decrease in how much the state contributes to the State Universities Retirement System, total higher education funding is up from $3.86 billion in fiscal year 2019. Pritzker and university officials said the additional state funding is an investment in stability for the institutions.

State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said a 5 percent increase that fails to address pension costs doesn’t make sense. Growing pension costs will eventually eat up that increase. Pritzker’s proposed budget earmarks $1.63 billion for SURS, that’s down from $1.65 billion in fiscal year 2019 and about even with $1.63 billion in fiscal year 2018.

“When you go back to ‘05, ‘06, that skipped pension payment was a third of our unfunded pension liability now,” Rose said. “Our pension payments in 2002 were $2.2 billion a year, now they’re like $9.5 billion a year. OK, that is coming from somewhere and it’s coming out of higher ed and K-12 and everything else and ultimately comes out of the taxpayers’ pockets.”

“I would caution all the folks back home who got excited about this 5 percent increase for higher ed and just let them know that you don’t get there without this pension, whatever it is,” Rose said. “The retired teachers are saying it’s a skip, the [Illinois Education Association] and the [Illinois Federation of Teachers] are a little leery about it. I want to know a lot about it.”

Rose said he’s concerned that state universities continue to look to expand their footprints

Last week, the University of Illinois, the largest public university system in Illinois, asked lawmakers for $692.5 million, a 16.5 percent increase over last year. Pritzker’s proposed budget would give the system $627.5 million.

Asked how to control costs to limit rising tuition costs, Pritzker said those decisions should be made by university leaders.

“It’s really up to folks on the ground, on-site, who know bests, and our university presidents. Our university presidents know where efficiencies can be brought and where they’re underfunded,” Pritzker said.

University officials said they are taking steps to contain costs and keep tuition in check. 

“Across the entire University of Illinois system … we have kept undergraduate tuition flat for the last five years,” U of I Springfield Chancellor Susan Koch said. “We’re going to continue to do everything we can to contain those costs.”

Other university officials have done the same.

“We have not raised tuition for the last three years,” Governors State University President Elaine Maimon said. “[Pritzker] has hit what the issue is: Disinvestment, and he is turning that around.”

Governors State University would get $23.1 million if Pritzker’s proposed budget passes as is.

Chicago State University President Zaldwaynaka “Z” Scott said that for the first time in four years, the university had to raise tuition and fees. Chicago State University officials said the school also needs more money from taxpayers. It would get $36.9 million from Pritzker’s proposed budget.

“With a capital bill, we would be able to use monies for capital improvements that are now being financed with tuition and fees,” Scott said.

Rose said more money won’t solve the problems the state’s schools face. He said 25 years ago there were 8 four-year institutions.

“Now we have 13 four-year institutions, plus 40-plus community colleges, plus you’ve got the internet with online learning, OK, and during the same time period you’ve got 50,000 fewer people enrolling,” Rose said. “That’s a huge problem.”

Rose said consolidating functions and offerings at the state’s public universities could help address costs. Without changes, funding issues will continue to compound, he said.

“We have an excess of capacity in this state,” Rose said. Despite having fewer students, “we keep going on a spending spree and building out more capacity. That ultimately is reflected in the price of tuition.”, which reviewed the tuition costs around the country for 2018, found Illinois’ average in-state tuition was the fifth highest in the country at $13,970 and has increased 3 percent over five years.

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April 8, 2019 at 06:04AM

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