Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Under flat budget, SIU tuition would likely rise

By Jamey Dunn

Southern Illinois University President Glenn Poshard said today that the Southern Illinois University system could cope with flat funding next fiscal year. But under Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget plan, a tuition increase would likely be in the cards.

Poshard said that a decade ago, SIU got $247 million in state funds for operations, compared with $219 million for operations last year. “We are actually grateful this year for a flat-funded budget,” Poshard told a Senate budgeting committee this evening.

Quinn’s spending plan would hold SIU funding practically level and calls for the school to get about $218 million in general revenue funds for FY 2013. “That’s what the governor has said that we’re going to get, so we’re not fighting that,” Poshard said.

He said the university system is still coping with late payments from the state and maintenance projects that have been put off. “Our need for addressing deferred … maintenance is greater than ever.” He said that the state owes the university about $112 million for the current fiscal year, and more than $500 million in maintenance has been delayed across the SIU campuses in recent years. Poshard said he is concerned about SIU’s “inability” to replace faculty and staff after they retire. “SIU is the economic engine for southern Illinois, which has the highest unemployment rate in the state,” he said. “We have made the necessary cuts to keep our head above water by reducing our workforce by 206 full-time people and hundreds of part-time positions over the last two years. That hurts the university, and that hurts the region.”

With no new funding from the state, the university president said incoming freshman next summer at SIU would likely see a 4.8 percent tuition increase and a 1.8 percent increase in fees. The SIU Board of Trustees is scheduled to vote on the proposed increase in May. Poshard said he thinks it will be approved. Sen. Pam Althoff, a McHenry Republican, was critical of growing tuition rates at the state’s public universities. “I have grave concerns with regard to the continual increase of tuition costs.”

Althoff asked how universities justify giving tuition waivers to family members of faculty and staff, even as tuition rates increase for other students. Poshard responded, “If the state declines operationally, then we have no choice but to raise the tuition.” He said the waivers are necessary to make Illinois competitive when competing with other schools for employees. House Bill 5531, which was approved by a House committee last week, would eliminate discounted tuition for university employees. “If you’re going to go out on the market and you’re going to try to get the best faculty member that you can bring to your university, it’s going to cost you,” Poshard said. He added that new faculty members often bring millions of dollars in research grants with them when they come to a university.

Poshard said he is concerned that despite Quinn’s spending proposal, universities will see cuts in Fiscal Year 2013. He said that proposals to push pension costs onto school districts and universities would result in a reduction of resources for operating costs. Poshard said he supports a proposal from two University of Illinois professors that would require employees to pay more and call upon universities to cover some of their retirement costs. “They have come up with what I consider to be the very best effort that has been put on the table so far.” However, union officials and some legislators say that requiring employees to pay more for their pensions violates the state’s Constitution.

For information on the budgets of other Illinois  universities, see Illinois Issues' February 29 blog.

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