WI and IL facing similar budget cuts

Reggie Parson

“It is not just Wisconsin reducing funding to higher education in the the Midwest. The neighboring state of Illinois and its newly elected Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is proposing to the Illinois General Assembly a reduction of nearly $400 million in spending to universities in the state’s 2016 budget. But these proposed cuts must first pass through the Democratic majority General Assembly.

According to the Northwest Herald, in preparation for the potentially massive cuts, universities such as Northern Illinois University are looking for alternative sources to funding, such as federal grants. They will face a potential $29 million reduction in state appropriations and are considering reducing their staff and restructuring programs.

The University of Illinois System, which is drastically smaller than the UW System, will be taking the largest brunt of the cuts. The University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, the flagship of the system-equivalent to UW-Madison, will face a potential $209 million cut in state funding.

To add salt to the wound, the University of Illinois Board of Regents froze tuition for all three of the U of I campuses (Chicago, Springfield and Urbana-Champaign), according to the Chicago Tribune. Despite the proposed cuts, the board vowed to maintain the promise of a tuition freeze. They must now find additional revenue that will not come from students to make up for the cuts.

According to the Chicago Tribune, University of Illinois System President Bob Easter said a $209 million state general funds cut would substantially harm students and Illini overall by severely impacting core education and research. Easter also noted the University will be in the Capitol during the spring session to participate vigorously in this debate.

It is hard to think that once upon a time, higher education was something citizens supported through higher taxpayer subsidies and utilized to have a more enriched life. Today it seems to frequently be the first thing to be on the chopping block when states encounter a budget deficit.

Conversely, Minnesota has done the opposite and put additional money into higher education. It would not be surprising if Minnesota became the leader in higher education and part of the solution to reduce the college affordability crisis.

Illinois and Wisconsin’s university systems are similar in their track records regarding higher education and both of their public universities have increased tuition for students to keep up with the costs of years of fiscal deficits.

Now both states’ university systems have imposed a tuition freeze and are facing dramatic cuts. While it’s understandable that budget cuts are at times necessary, it should not come at the expense of the state’s largest economic driver, higher education.

Students leaving a Wisconsin school to attend an Illinois public university may realize they are not better off than they were as students in the UW System with the amount of cuts facing each of the state’s higher education institutions.

Gov. Rauner’s cuts to higher education will be facing an uphill battle as the legislature reviews his budget because of the power split between the executive and legislative branch in Springfield.

Students should be aware that states around Wisconsin are also facing difficult times with reductions in state funding. So before we begin to believe the UW System is the only one in the nation to face deep cuts in spending, look at our neighbors in the Land of Lincoln.”