‘There is no way to justify this’
February 15, 2017
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Western Illinois University hosted the Center for Tax and Budget Accounting’s (CTBA) Executive Director Ralph M. Martire and Research Associate Danielle Stanley to present their findings on the impact of the ongoing issues with the state budget.
After being introduced by Tri-States Public Radio’s News Director Rich Egger, Martire opened with the significance of studying how financing higher education affects the local economy compared to what people think about financing K through 12.
“What has been bothering us at the organization is the lack of funding to higher education is even worse, and it seems to not get any attention,” Martire said. “We decided to do a study on it for several reasons, and one of those is the growing importance of higher education on the economy.”
According to the CTBA’s research team, ignoring the impact that higher education financing has on the economy is not in the state’s best interest, as it provides an impact many other changes do not.
“We have these conversations at the state level about what we ought to be doing to grow our economy, and what policy decisions we should make, but its really clear,” Martire said. “There are only two policy decisions at the state level that have a statistically meaningful impact, how well a state invests in infrastructure, and then education, and we mean both higher education and K through 12.”
One of the things that the study looked at primarily was what universities have been receiving in comparison to recommendations made by the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE). Each year the Board makes a recommendation for how much funding a university should receive.
While the IBHE recommendation has been steadily declining since 2008, the state has continued to provide less than what was suggested.
“Since 2008 forward, the state has never once followed the recommendation made by the Illinois Board of Higher Education,” Martire said. “Actual funding levels have always been consistently lower than what the board indicates is appropriate under the circumstance.”
According to Martire, this negligence towards the funding of higher education is what is preventing Illinois with being competitive with other states.
“We are now a national outlier compared to the rest of the country in our approach to investing in higher education,” Martire said, “regardless of how the data shows how important higher education is in terms of a state’s economy and an individual’s role in the modern economy.”
Stanley later addressed how the budget impasse has specifically impacted the situation at Western, and what she is seeing happen under a new national administration.
“Western Illinois University laid off 145 faculty positions and eliminated programs such as women’s studies, philosophy and African American studies,” Stanley said. “That’s pretty interesting, because during this time we have a Trump administration and people are talking about things like critical thinking; however, these programs have been cut due to not only the budget impasse but their low enrollment as well.”
The presentation then moved into a panel discussion with education experts within the state. Many members of the panel focused on how MAP (Monetary Award Program) grants are a crucial part of higher education.
“When you look back historically with the MAP award it not only covered a higher proportion of students but it also covered more of the cost to go to college,” said Kyle Westbrook, Executive Director of the Partnership for College Completion. “When I was student, between MAP and PELL, you’re entire tuition and your room and board would basically be covered.”
Tom Cross, the Chair of the IBHE, mentioned how even with MAP grant funding the money allotted to students annually is not enough to accomplish what it did over a decade prior.
“I happen to think one of the biggest issues is MAP,” Cross said. “In 2001 we were able to take care of every student’s needs that qualified for MAP. If we were to get a budget we would need about a billion dollars to take care of all the kids with MAP. I really believe MAP is something that will hurt the students that need help if they don’t get it.”
As the benefits of MAP continue to go into a decline, John Miller, President of the University Professionals of Illinois (UPI), Local 4100 expressed that the lack of financial support for students will lead to further economic decline in the state.
“When we are hearing that students are leaving Western or other state universities to go out of state, we have a serious problem,” Miller said. “Once those students leave, the likelihood that they will come back to be productive citizens of Illinois and start their businesses decreases substantially, because they are recruited in those states.”
Following the panel was a brief question and answer session. Martire closed out the presentation with his final remarks on the budget situation
“I don’t have a comment to describe this, from either a good government standpoint or an economic standpoint or whether this is a good utilization of consumer resources, there is no way to justify this,” Martire said. “There is no way to justify this.”