SGA discusses student fee changes

Steven Barnum , News editor

Western Illinois University President Jack Thomas spoke at Tuesday’s Student Government Association (SGA) meeting about Western’s future financial status.

Thomas said that it’s easy to focus on the negativity surrounding the upcoming cuts at the University, but that there are also positives that Western should boast. He sees the increase in full-time freshmen enrollment at a rate of almost four percent between the fall 2017 semester to the spring 2019 semester as progress. Thomas is hopeful that those numbers start a trend to maintain retention.

He lists factors like the University’s decisions to offer new online programs, more opportunities for high school students in dual enrollment courses and Governor J.B. Pritzker’s plan to increase the funding for public universities by five percent as reasons for potential growth in the freshmen class.

Despite strong appreciation for the governor’s plan to increase the funding at Western, Thomas said that the University still has to cut costs.

“Even with the governor’s assurances, as result of the budget situation and decreases to the enrollment, we cannot decrease the institution’s expenditures without reducing the University’s operating expenses,” Thomas said, “which include personnel.”

Thomas noted that rumors of the president’s office employing four secretaries is untrue; instead, he said that there are two secretaries that serve himself, the Board of Trustees and the University’s general counsel. He also said that several recently vacated positions in his office were not filled.

Student employment at Western will likely be impacted with the recent increase in the minimum wage in the state of Illinois. Western will begin increasing the minimum wage by one dollar starting in January of 2020. Although the University will have to pay all minimum wage workers $15 per hour by 2025, there is a bill to make that happen even sooner. According to Western’s Budget Director, Letisha Trepac, this will be problematic for the University.

“That’s a substantial raise, and our budgets are based on revenue,” Trepac said, “so if our budgets stay the same and our cost per hour goes up, then there will be fewer hours available on campus.”

Thomas said that wage increase would force the University to continue to be creative when making cuts. “The state is not giving us anything additional,” Thomas said. “We have to absorb that cost ourselves. It’s not that we don’t want it, but this will put a strain on the institution.”

“We have to continue to do as much as we can to reduce spending and savings while also keeping  the University’s future in mind,” Thomas said. “Western has been here 118 years and we want to see it 118 more years and beyond. These are not easy decisions for us to make but we have to position ourselves for the future.”

One of the ways Western chose to save money is taking the North Quad offline beginning this fall. Joe Roselieb, Director of Residential and Auxiliary Facilities, said that the decision was made to benefit new students. He also said that it was a calculated choice to both cut costs and minimize the potential damage.

From his rough estimates, the University will save more than $1 million by no longer offering dorms in the North Quad. Freshmen will live in the same residence halls as upperclassmen, which he said could add to their first year experience that Western has to offer. Roselieb told The Western Courier in January that the University does not currently plan to demolish either of the buildings because they are optimistic about a reversal in the declining enrollment.

The University is proposing increases to student fees to support the University Union and the University Housing and Dining Services. The SGA will vote on this during their next meeting on March 5.